Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Devil's Disciple" makes a funny, pleasant evening
Cleveland Press March 20, 1971
"The Devil's Disciple" has been revived at the Play House Euclid-77th Theater, and while the revival is not all it should be, it is nonetheless an extremely pleasant evening's entertainment. Indeed, it is a great deal of fun and the audience response is one of much glee and laughter.
It was George Bernard Shaw 's particular ability that he could take hokum and work his magic on it with a combination of wit and philosophy. The wit is satiric and so is much of the philosophy.
"The Devil's Disciple" is pure melodrama and if played in a straight melodramatic and romantic manner it is Shaw's own oblique viewpoint of matters, his expected dialog with the unexpected twist that gives the play its value.
What it does not need is burlesquing, but the Play House production comes perilously close to this. It is an easy temptation -- the trappings of melodrama are so vulnerable to burlesque.
The result in this presentation is a quantity of double-takes, an occasional gesture that is a mite broad, nick-of-time entrances that are overly grand.
Fortunately there is not enough to destroy the play, although there are moments when the laughs come from the physical action rather than from the wit of the play script.
The play's hero (or antihero) is Dick Dudgeon raised in such a puritanical atmosphere that he has allied himself with the devil.
But devil or not, he allows himself to be arrested by British troops (the play's period is the American Revolution) when they mistake him for the minister.
Is it the presence of the minister's wife? Think that if you want, but Shaw makes it clear that Dudgeon would have done the same for any man.
In the end it is this non-religious man who is steadfast and philosophical and minister who is the man of action.
Robert Thorson is a high spirited Dick Dudgeon, a trifle sardonic but not too much so and with the right touch of defiance. Jonathan Bolt's minister is a man of vitality, barely repressed vitality at first but full-bodied at the end.
Richard Halverson is an aristocratic and witty General Burgoyne. Jean Barrett as the minister's young wife is perfect as the sentimental heroine; pretty, ladylike and not fluttery.
John Going's direction is overly broad and the pervading air is one of fun which tends to make the melodrama that much hokier. Old-fashioned or not, that final will-the-hero be rescued scene should be played with more tension
But to give this "Devil's Disciple" its due the response from the audience is generally joyous.