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'The Devil's Disciple' celebrates America's early beginnings

Now playing through July 27, 2014
Used with permission from Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

In the spirit of the Fourth of July holiday and celebration and the 350th Anniversary of New Jersey’s Charter, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is now presenting “The Devil’s Disciple” by George Bernard Shaw through July 27, 2014. This play celebrates the American Revolution during a crucial time period for the colonists as they tried to win their fight for independence from England. "The Devil's Disciple" provides a unique opportunity to experience the tension of living during the days when the United States was still a dream waiting to become a reality. It explores the lengths people will go to in order to attain the causes they believe in.

“The Devil’s Disciple” was the first commercial success for its playwright, George Bernard Shaw. It also established a Shavian balance of comedy, drama, and exploration of human nature that became Shaw’s signature style used in many of his works. It is that balance that provides the action and momentum that keeps the audience mindfully watching as the characters develop, change and surprisingly triumph with some laughs as well as though provoking moments along the way.

The action is set in 1777 as the American Revolution is shaking the colonies particularly Westerbridge, New Hampshire, where the Dudgeon family lives. The head of the household has died and his wife, Anne, is preparing for visitors for the reading of the will. Her obedient son, Christy, is present and poor relation Essie whose father was just hanged is also in the house with Anne. As the towns people arrive, clergyman Anthony Anderson and his wife Judith are also on hand as the rebellious son Richard arrives with great fanfare. Richard, who is also called Dick, has been a rebel in the family and so when the will is read and it is discovered that his father has left everything to him, there is a great deal of dismay. Only the clergyman attempts to smooth it all out only to have Richard lash out to all that he is the Devil’s disciple who does everything unconventionally and relishes his life that way.

The stage is set for the rest of the action to take place as clergyman Anderson invites Richard to come to his home where he will attempt to work things out more favorably for the Dudgeon family. As they prepare for tea, the clergyman is called to go to another part of town but he invites Richard to wait at the house for him and to spend the time with his beautiful wife. Moments after he leaves, English soldiers enter and arrest Richard thinking he is clergyman Anderson. Richard allows the mistake to continue and thus sets in motion a series of events to play out which eventually lead to the ouster of the English army from the town and their realizing they are going to loose their colonies.

One of the major strengths of this show is the fine cast who take this play and make it come alive in a most entertaining but though provoking fashion. Some of the major players include James Knight as the very dashing, bold but rebellious Richard. Although he shocks his family with his "I am the devil's disciple" speech, he shows himself to be a man of high principle in matters related to the American Revolution as well as justice for wrongs done to his fellow man. It is no wonder that Judith Anderson, played by Elizabeth A. Davis, faints as Richard kisses her and becomes his devoted follower. However, she has the strength of character to recognize that her husband, the Reverend Anthony Anderson, played by Paul Niebanck, has followed his own conscience and become the man of the hour who rose to the occasion. Cynthia Mace takes on the role of the Dudgeon matriarch Anne with an interesting slant to her character as she is demoted from the household she should have owned to being ousted by her son Richard. We later learn of her death in a quiet way. Edmond Genest's portrayal of British General Burgoyne provides many funny lines with his deadpan humorous delivery such as his advice to Richard to take hanging over being shot as the British troops aren't the best aims. However, he also provides the truth of the situation that the British were facing at this time period: they were not going to win this conflict and their defeat was apparent. Other cast members include Connor Carew, Michael Daly, John Little, Matt Sullivan, Sheffield Chastain, Katie Willworth, Matt Sullivan, Nancy Rich, and Rosemary Wall.

Audiences will enjoy the special effects included in this show such as the entrance of the militia coming down the aisles to the stage. The scene where Richard is preparing to be hanged is choreographed in a manner that one feels like they are in town as the action takes place. All of this adds to the tension and eventual resolution of the situation.

The following is a list of Special Events for this show’s run:

Post-Show Symposium Performances – July 8 at 7:30 p.m., July 12 and July 19 at 2:00 p.m.

Know the Show – July 10, 7:30 p.m.

Audio Described Performance: July 19 at 7:30 p.m.

All shows and Special Events will run at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road) in Madison.

Tickets range from $15 - $75. Student Rush tickets are available a half-hour before curtain for $15 with a valid student ID. Visit the website at www.ShakespeareNJ.org for more information.