4 Cents Review – When 2 reviewers each give their 2 cents.
Today Stephen Tortora-Lee and Karen Tortora-Lee give their 4 Cents about The Princes Of Darkness which is playing at Theater for the New City.
Before The Princes of Darkness (written and performed by Bill Connington) even begins there’s an ambiance created by sound designer Sean Gill that does its best to set a tone of creepy nervousness. Resonating within the small theatre, which is completely draped in black cloth, is the kind of music reserved for the scenes in movies that have the most startling effect – a subtle drop of blood oozing down a table, a shadow crossing a deserted hallway. Let yourself get pulled too deeply into the sounds and you’ll find that you’ll jump when the seat behind you thuds down.
Equally effective is the lighting design by Kia Rogers. Satan cast down into a lake of everlasting fire in the beginning of the play makes for a scorching moment as red lights dance along the floor and lick at the heels of the fallen angel.
Don’t worry. The mood lightens from here. Under Rachel Klein’s direction Lucifer’s decent into the netherworld transforms him from maddened outcast angel to Cabaret-style Master of Ceremonies a la Joel Grey. Indeed, he even has the makeup down. This Satan isn’t just sitting around, however, he starts his show with a few parlour tricks and then immediately begins to rant at God and dare mankind (specifically the mankind that is sitting in the audience) to do a better job of ruling the universe.
Soon, the illustrations begin as The Dark One highlights the lives of three Dark Princes – Hamlet, Oedipus and Dracula – and uses their human failings as indications of where Man has gone wrong in the past. The real lesson to draw from The Princes of Darkness is that the tue darkness we have to worry about are not the big ones like genocide, incest or suicide but the more subtle ones like codependency, self absorption, and insecurity.
Hamlet leads off the trio. Hamlet, so bored with the constant “wake, eat, work, sleep” of his life, who dares to question why does it all matter anyway? Next up is Oedipus who appreciates the significance and the value of good, but is doomed by his inability to accept things for what they are. The final character we are given the chance to explore through the eyes of Satan’s viewfinder is Dracula. He, like the other characters, exposes his true nature through interaction with voice-over quotes taken directly from literature. While, as with the others, his scene turns on his insight into the nature of humanity and his divine shadow self, Dracula actually gives a surprising fatal flaw.
Dracula shows the evil we expect of wanting to be as God; all powerful and immortal and outside the confines of morality. But the surprising sin which is drawn out by Lucifer is co-dependency. Dracula’s need to be needed by those he “turns” by his need to be appreciated for his “gifts” of unnaturalness. His need to not be appreciated for his “self”, but rather his commitment to non-self. “I won’t last a day without you“ he cries, singing the Carpenter’s hit in a dissonant and plaintive entreaty. It’s as heartbreaking as it is uncomfortable to watch. Dracula in pain? Yes.
What we see in The Devil’s journey with us in this hour is how the little things that might seem to hold us back in life – such as commitment, empathy and restraint – don’t keep us down . . . they actually hold us together. Lucifer’s fall is not really from God’s favor, but rather by him abandoning God’s Order, which shows that by putting yourself at the center of the universe, you trap yourself in your own bottomless pit; as chaos implodes your hopes and dreams into nothing but thinner and thinner caricatures of meaning. It takes the slick Beelzebub we often see in the media and makes us see that the Laws of nature and decency “aren’t just rules . . . but a good idea”.
Connington’s play highlights the idea that perhaps, in the end, Lucifer’s true punishment is self inflicted. Instead of being forced to be imprisoned in the bottomless pit of Hell it seems that really, by him being able to abandon the rules of God more than any other, his own sense of Egoism and rebellion from Order caused the contradictions which doom him to continual dissolution of his own purpose and constructions.
Through deep story telling and strong imagery Connington attempts to, and for the most part succeeds in, giving a lesson in the true nature of what is evil and what we should aspire to. Perhaps the real power of this piece is the devil’s sympathy of us, his encouragement to “save the world”. Perhaps his attempt to become the highest part of heaven is truly an inspiration. If it weren’t for that fall we may not have been given a great gift. Even the greatest Princes of Darkness give us a lesson: Evil is not a great force that threatens to rip apart the universe through sheer determinism. Evils is taking the easy path which damns us to the horror of facing what happens when a vacuum is made in Good.
Princes of Darkness
written and performed by Bill Connington
directed by Rachel Klein