NEW YORK, NY.-
The events of the world trail us into the theater always. There is no separating a live performance from the moment in which we experience it, not even if the words an actor speaks were written hundreds of years ago.
What a powerful time, then, to encounter Shakespeares Shylock in Patrick Pages solo-show investigation of evil, All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain.
Because Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who infamously demands a pound of flesh in The Merchant of Venice, is, if a villain, a complicated one: persecuted, spit upon and scorned by Christians for being a Jew. But even in his bitterness, he recognizes that he and they are similar in almost every respect, because they are all human.
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? he says. If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
It is impossible, or it was for me, not to think of the horrors in Israel and Gaza with Page embodying Shylock there before us. In that context, Shylocks words hit hard yet his argument, like his ancient grudge born of humiliations, might have belonged to an ordinary person on either side of that conflict. Such is the prismatic nature of theater, that great instrument of empathy, and such is the capaciousness of Pages performance.
Rest assured, though, that most of All the Devils is much less fraught, and a lot of it is fun. Page, whose resonant bass helped make him such an entrancingly sinister Hades in Hadestown, practically twinkles here between scenes of malevolence.
Directed by Simon Godwin at the DR2 Theater in Manhattan, Page begins the show by channeling a bloodthirsty Lady Macbeth. But when the monologue ends and the lights go up, Page snaps back to himself, looking absolutely delighted.
Do those words frighten you? he asks, his inviting warmth immediately banishing my fear that All the Devils might be a tough-guy exercise like British actor Steven Berkoffs Shakespeares Villains, a solo show that once traversed some of the same terrain.
Page is a friendlier guide, charmingly unintimidating and even a little dishy about Shakespeare, tracing the playwrights game-changing development as a writer of psychologically complex evildoers. Referring to a leg injury he suffered while taking a bow early in the run Page has been temporarily using a cane he jocularly blamed the curse of Macbeth, a superstition much cherished in the theater.
On a set by Arnulfo Maldonado that blends the lush and the austere, All the Devils doesnt always have the precision that it might. As Page slips into role after role, depth sometimes goes missing.
But the show, an earlier version of which was presented online in 2021, is smartly structured and frequently fascinating, as in a scene between Othello honorable, deep-voiced and Iago, feigning guilelessness, whom Page gives a lighter tone. His Malvolio, more narcissist than villain, is comic, then moving; his Ariel, not villainous at all, is ethereal and excellent.
Hamlets murderous uncle, Claudius, appears in his most conscience-stricken moment; Angelo, from Measure for Measure, in a confrontation that, to my mind at least, is utterly conscience-free.
Who will believe thee, Isabel? Angelo says to the young woman whom he is trying to power play into having sex with him.
Page is interested in the intersection between evil and sociopathy, which he began considering when he first played Iago. But human fallibility and Shakespeares nuanced understanding of it grips him even more.
Quoting the line from The Tempest that gives the show its title, Page says: Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.
At that here, he places a hand softly on his heart. Where there is evil, it lies within.
All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented The Villain
Through Jan. 7 at DR2 Theater, Manhattan; allthedevilsplay.com. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times