The Father of Lies, Leviathan, Lucifer and The Old Enemy — these are names for the personification of evil in our Western, Judeo-Christian tradition. Lucifer (literally “light bearer,” a metaphor for “the morning star” that appears in Isaiah 14:12) refers to the demigod’s former status as the deity’s second in command before the elevation of Jesus. Leviathan is the “coiled serpent” of Isaiah 27 and Job 41: “Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.” Advocate (in the sense of lawyer), accuser and prosecutor are translations of הַשָּׂטָן, the creature that appears in Job to tempt the eponymous hero to disavow his faith in God. This manifestation of Satan tempts the Young Man in Alexandra Devon’s play His Majesty, the Devil playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of their East to Edinburgh festival.
The creative talents employed in His Majesty, the Devil are impressive: Ms Devon worked as an actress with Ionesco, Thornton Wilder and Mike Nichols; Colin Pip Dixon, the Young Man, and his Shadow Arnaud Ghillebaert, provide the play’s compelling musical accompaniment on their violins; and Macintyre Dixon (Colin’s father), who plays The Visitor, is an eighty-year-old wonder whose acting credits include TV spots on All in the Family, Alice, and Eight Is Enough, and movies like Popeye, Gettysburg and The School of Rock. Director Mathilde Schennen is the relative newby of the bunch, though you would never know it from her spare, intense, palpitating coordination of the theatrical elements.
The scene opens on a Young Man who is clearly ill in body and mind, planning a cataclysmic event to set the world right. We recognize him and his idealistic fervor in cultural heroes like Beethoven, Byron and John Lennon, as well as the religious fanatics who came of age in the twenty-first century hoping to destroy the relics of an evil, unbelieving world. He cares deeply for the injustices committed on the weakest and most helpless among us — the children — and he hates just as deeply the adults they will eventually become.
Enter The Visitor, a kindly old man whose gray hairs cover a head full of witty, convoluted arguments. A viola player in tuxedo tails shadows the pair adding music where appropriate. The Young Man and the hoary Visitor circle each other, probing each other’s thoughts and beliefs to see who is more dangerous. Their conversation is clearly inspired by both the Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers Karamazov and the Underground Man in Notes from the Underground. Who is really evil? The devil who maintains the status quo, or the God who encourages us to hope for what can only cause us anguish? Would the greatest expressions of the human soul be possible without the greatest suffering? Can a person with good intentions and love in their hearts still commit the most unspeakable evils?
For those of you who seek some spiritual escape from the Summer of Hate, with its shrill partisans on the left and the right, its cries of hypocrisy and privilege, its seething rage, where, in Yeats’s words, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity,” His Majesty, the Devil is a must-see.