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Wicked Satire Muted in ‘Devil’s Disciple’

In the hour of trial a man discovers much about his own hidden character, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out quite eloquently in “The Devil’s Disciple.” Yet the self-discoveries of Richard Dudgeon, his American Revolutionary brigand-turned-hero, remain oddly muted and abstract in Theatre 40’s overly safe revival.

Clark Houston Lewis’ direction permits little emotional counterpunch to the heady dialogue, especially in establishing Dudgeon’s antisocial nature--if only actor Demetrio James had been allowed a good venomous sneer or two! Instead, he’s so amiable from the outset that his decision to trade places with the political activist pastor (Michael Forest) doesn’t seem that much of a stretch.

Denise Devin cuts a sympathetic figure as the pastor’s romantically conflicted wife. Lia Chapman adds supporting sparkle to the role of his oppressed niece, and Thor Nielsen supplies extensive lowbrow comic relief as a befuddled British soldier. Shaw’s wicked sense of satire, however, requires more than slapstick and dutiful staging.

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* “The Devil’s Disciple,” Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends May 3. $15-$18. (818) 789-8499. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.


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