by Amy Lee Pearsall · August 15, 2014
Can we ever fully escape the sins of our mothers and fathers? Are we doomed to repeat these familial histories, even as the world rolls forward? In Foro Shakespeare and Producciones Escarabajo’s production of Don Nigro’s monologue play A History of the Devil, now showing at The White Box at 440 Studios as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival, these questions spring to mind again and again.
Tato Alexander plays Maria, a violinist convinced that her conductor boyfriend has taken another lover. Alexander is no stranger to Nigro’s sensory attention to detail, serving as the official Spanish translator of much of Nigro’s work. As directed by Itari Marta, she deftly digs into the downward spiral of Maria’s obsession and madness (or is it sanity?) with calculated abandon.
Hilda Palafox dresses the set with a collection of objects that feel like cast-off remnants from Maria’s childhood: a beat-up upright piano; a doll with its head torn off; framed black and white photographs; a vintage tin shaped like a bus; an apple serving as the exit point from the Eden of blissful ignorance. A stuffed rabbit serves as Maria’s friend, personal demon, and accomplice.
There is a tiny curtained frame upstage center which functions as a windowsill and calls to mind a puppet stage, but for some reason is not employed at key moments in the piece, such as when Maria actually needs to climb in and out of a window, or when the bunny makes his opinions known. I was also confused as to the conspicuous absence of a violin onstage, and the choice of Alexander’s diaphanous blue dress as a costume. While it most certainly accented her eyes, under the stage lights, it left nothing beneath to the imagination. It was not unlike staring at a gun onstage that is inexplicably never used.
In terms of the technical aspects, I was unclear as to why the stage lights dipped into full black at points in the story and then came back up. My first thought was that there might be issues with the light board; at other times, it felt like a conscious choice, although there was nothing to support that choice in the play. Javier Lara, Axel Dupeyron, Maribel Escobosa and Rodrigo Favela all contribute to the soundscape of the play with haunting, music box-like compositions that circle upon themselves.
At 90 minutes, the production could perhaps stand some tightening up in places, though Alexander keeps the audience engaged throughout. All in all, A History of the Devil serves as a fascinating examination of one woman’s psyche and psychosis, and serves as an effective reminder to the audience to examine our own lives for repeating patterns – and devils – to see where we, too, could perhaps break free.