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THE WHITE DEVIL Compass Performing Arts Center/American Repertory Theatre of WNY
By
Apr 23, 2024, 12:40
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Through April 27
THE WHITE DEVIL Compass Performing Arts Center/American Repertory Theatre of WNY

The playwrights of late Elizabethan England were fascinated with Italy.
Maybe because Shakespeare once visited there or because the Earl of Oxford did.
Not only was it for the “grand tour” of history and sculpture, Italy has a much better climate.
Besides, in the time John Webster wrote “The White Devil,” England was still in its religious wars and the Catholic Church in faraway Rome was fair game in this tale of murder (several).
Webster had, as a principal character, a sleazy cardinal, mixed in with the murders.
Stepping back, the play is based on a real upper crust murder, with the particular cardinal involved becoming Pope.
This wasn’t a popular play in Webster’s time and it vanished onto dusty shelves.
It was considered too complicated for the groundlings audience in the days when Webster was a part of the gang of playwrights and acting companies, all of whom worked together in Shakespeare’s declining years.
Webster is only known for his “The Duchess of Malfi.”
Charlie McGregor was in a bookstore in England when he ran across a copy of “The White Devil.”
Working with Arianna Lasting, they took the original play (which is clearly out of copyright) and trimmed it down, edited the wordy script and eliminated some of the characters, trimming down to ten.
Now, it’s getting an interesting production from American Repertory Theatre, with McGregor and Lasting in charge.
It’s a tangled tale revolving around the Duke of Rome (Johnny Barden), Cardinal Monticelso (Ian Michalski), Duchess Isabella (Camilla Maxwell) and the violent factotum Flamineo (Andrew Zuccari).
Politics in Rome was tangled, as it has always been.
This story is even more tangled because the amended script isn’t completely clear.
It can be hard to understand the machinations of the men and women and murderers flitting across the Compass stage, ready to kill for reasons never completely clear.
This was a time when perhaps the greatest painter of this play’s time, Caravaggio, was a murderer and constantly on the run from other moments of violence.
If this were Shakespeare, a viewer would have some sense of the people and the events on stage.
That’s the biggest problem with “The White Devil,” the uncertainty about what’s occurring on stage because this is an unknown play.
Performers like Barden, Michalski and Heather Casseri carry the story and that’s why this play is worth seeing, even if you have never head of the playwright or the play.
There’s nothing like a bloody tale of chicanery, plotting and murder in a location from the distant past.

A.W.

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