Tuesday, April 21, 2015

reviews - THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL - Nearly Naked Theatre

Austin Morris, David Nelson and Hillary Low
(photo: Laura Durant)
For more information on this production, that runs through April 25th, click here.

"The name Clive Barker is well known for the elaborate, extreme, and graphic horror films and books he has written and directed. However, a few years before he came to notoriety for the "Books of Blood" series of short stories and the film Hellraiser, he wrote numerous plays, including The History of the Devil, which focuses on Lucifer's desire to return to heaven after God banished him many centuries ago. Nearly Naked Theatre's production of the play features an exceptionally game cast, who almost all effectively play multiple parts with ease, clear direction and an abundance of nudity, though none of it is truly unnecessary or overly titillating. And, while it is a long play, running nearly three hours, it is anything but boring.  A mix of courtroom drama and fantasy-filled flashbacks, The History of the Devil focuses on the Devil who is put on trial to determine if he stays in Hell or can return to Heaven. The Devil feels he is the one who has suffered and been persecuted and he just wants to go back home. Barker has crafted an intriguing play that allows you to see the good and bad sides of an individual, even Satan, and the way he shows the love that the Devil has for his followers and their devotion to him does start to make one wonder just how guilty Lucifer truly is. Nearly Naked Artistic Director Damon Dering has assembled a cast that throws themselves into their parts with sheer commitment. David Nelson is a perfect combination of charisma, seduction, manipulation, and pure sex appeal as Lucifer. His muscular body and height make him a force to be reckoned with as he towers over everyone else in the cast. It is a powerful and strong performance. Tracy Payne Black portrays the main prosecutor, a strong-willed and dominant woman with a strong determination to bring Lucifer down, yet she also plays a few lighter and more frightened characters with equally clear determination. Payne Black is exceptional in all of these parts.  Dering's staging is clear and direct, with seamless transitions from the courtroom to the flashbacks, and he has expertly directed the cast to inhabit their multiple roles with clarity. While Dering's use of a fair amount of nudity in the show might seem extreme, I found it perfectly exhibits the heightened sense of fear, uncertainty, and confusion that one imagines being nude in the world brings.  The length of the play may put some people off, as well as the fact that there are some confusing parts; for example, why is the trial set in Africa? The heat of the country is a nice allusion to the heat of Hades, but beyond that there is no clear explanation for the setting. The same goes for why the prosecutor is a lesbian and her girlfriend is her right hand or why certain flashbacks get more stage time than others. It's as if Barker threw several things into the play but never followed through on their significance. However, the play is still a thought-provoking piece, full of humor, horror, and obscene moments. Nearly Naked Theatre's production has an exceptional cast, led by David Nelson's moving performance of Lucifer, clear direction, and fantasy-inspired creative elements. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it definitely will make you wonder about the balance of good and evil in the world." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Wordy British playwright Clive Barker has written a verbose, obnoxious, and talky script called The History of the Devil.  Barker uses the premise that people blame their actions and decisions on the Devil’s behind-the-scenes manipulation of situations.  Talk about pretentious claptrap and when the Nearly Naked Theatre production by artistic director Damon Dering is bland, monotonous, and uninteresting, even decent acting by an eleven person ensemble who essay 35 diverse characters fairly well can’t make the play into viable theater.  The Devil is portrayed as a suave, man-about-town.  We meet people who essay various situations that the Devil manages.  Once they realize his control and their lack of influence over their own lives, the play gets very repetitious. Beyond the dull and poorly written play, much of the problem lies in director Dering’s rambling production that he never lets catch the fire it must have to entrance audiences.  David Nelson bounds on stage initially as the Devil and tries, without success, to bring the play the energy it lacks by using the Devil’s tricky malarkey to spice things up.  But neither Nelson’s commanding performance nor the hard-working efforts of the rest of the ensemble are enough to keep things interesting.  There’s nothing distinguished about the physical production so there’s little visual interest to pull the audience into the play.  Be warned that the play contains nudity. The opening night audience gave the production polite but short applause and quickly left at the play’s conclusion.  Many were commenting upon exiting that the play 'wasn’t their cup of tea.' " -Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"It's not theology, exactly, that drags The History of the Devil down. This early play by horror fiction's second-most-famous contemporary novelist is an intriguing thought experiment, but it's messy and, despite its long playing time, underdeveloped. And so, too, is this production directed by Nearly Naked founder Damon Dering, with scenery seemingly assembled from fabric-store remnants. Performances are similarly slapped together out of bad accents and cartoonish caricatures, including a demon that sounds like a Disney parrot. Centuries after his exile from Paradise, Lucifer — played as a smarmy hipster by David Nelson — is up for parole. He magically drags an entire courtroom to a crocodile-infested lake in Kenya (why? the subtext of that is probably best left unexamined) in an effort to prove he's innocent of instigating man's inhumanity to man and thus earn his return to heaven. Individually, these scenes are potentially provocative, but they never jell into a compelling narrative arc, especially because the courtroom characters all come off as sketchy first drafts. The twist ending is clever, but it comes far too late to rescue the chaotic proceedings." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)


  1. Totally disagree, yes it was a big long, but it was an awsomely new twist on how you see Satan. The actors all did a wonderful job with the miles of lines and multiple characters they had. The accents were terrific and it didn't need a bunch of useless props to take you to all the different places the play went.
    Another great production by Damon and the cast and crew of Nearly Naked. Forget these wrong reviews and go see it.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts and while two of the reviews above were negative I'm pretty sure the first review from Gil Benbrook at Talkin' Broadway said it was worth seeing.