For Email Marketing you can trust

All the Devils are Here:  How Shakespeare Invented the Villain

Patrick Page (Photo:  Julieta Cervantes)


All the Devils are Here:  How Shakespeare Invented the Villain


By Deirdre Donovan


Those theatergoers who are searching for a show that is both intellectually stimulating and incredibly entertaining need look no further than All the Devils are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain.  Written and performed by Broadway veteran Patrick Page, this solo piece not only is a tour de force of acting, it is a master class on Shakespeare's baddies.


When the lights go up, one sees Page kneeling before a large open book and holding a staff that he will momentarily strike three times on the stage.  At first blush, the audience might assume that Page is impersonating Shakespeare's magus Prospero.  That is, until Page begins to intone Lady Macbeth's famous soliloquy in his own inimitable bass voice:


"Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty! . . ."


One could hear that proverbial pin drop in the intimate DR Theatre as Page delivers the rest of Lady Macbeth's incantation, in which she conjures evil spirits to give her the cruelty and fortitude to carry out the brutal assassination of the beloved King Duncan.  While the speech itself is spellbinding, Page, who acts as our trusty guide throughout, admits that it fills him with terror: "Do those words frighten you?  They scare the hell out of me.  Or rather, I should say, they scare the hell into me, which is exactly what they were designed to do."

Patrick Page (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)


During his 90-minute show, Page explores over a dozen of Shakespeare's greatest evildoers.  And who better than this actor to tackle this task?  Dubbed "the villain of Broadway" by Playbill, he has played such iconic characters as Scar in The Lion King, Brutus in Julius Caesar, The Grinch, the Green Goblin in Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, and, more recently, Hades in Hadestown.


A tall, broad-shouldered man with protean gifts of face and physique, Page is the consummate storyteller.  And though his primary objective is to delve into the subject of evil in human nature through the lens of Shakespeare's miscreants, he wisely begins by providing the audience with some basic biographical details on the playwright.


He shares that Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on April 26, 1564, and died on the same calendar day in 1616.  If that's not spooky enough, April 26 is St. George's Day, a day that celebrates the patron saint of England.  


The show is awash with anecdotes. Indeed, Page tells the audience that Shakespeare's genius for inventing hell-raisers and rapscallions might be rooted in the fact that he was a bit of a rogue himself.  For instance, there's the story set down by Shakespeare's first biographer who wrote that the teenage Shakespeare "poached a deer from the property of a country nobleman" and hightailed it to London to avoid prosecution.


While one might see the young Shakespeare as sowing his wild oats when he poached that deer, there's a piece of gossip from the diary of John Manningham, a 16th century law student, that suggests that the mature Shakespeare was not above stealing either.  Page retells the story with élan, noting that Richard Burbage played Richard III so well that a citizen became smitten with him, and asked him to come to her bedchamber.  Shakespeare, overhearing their conversation, "went before" to woo this citizen.  When Burbage inevitably arrived and announced that "Richard III was at the door," Shakespeare replied: "William the Conqueror came before Richard II."


Whether it's true or not, Page muses, we like to think it is.  But perhaps the most colorful proof that Shakespeare was a thief, he adds, lies in Robert Greene's pamphlet called "Greene's Groatsworth of Wit," which accuses the up-and-coming playwright of plagiarism.


". . .There is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you, and is, in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country."


The lecture format serves Page well, allowing him to wear both hats of professor and performer.  And when it comes to acting swaths of Shakespeare's text, he takes his license from Jacques' speech in As You Like It:  "All the world's a stage. and one man on his time plays many parts."  With a bit of hubris, Page shares that "I'll be playing all the parts."  And, happily, he's well worth indulging.


Page refers to his show as a séance-and he uses all the armory of the stage-lights (Stacey Derosier) set design (Arnulfo Maldonado), costumes (Emily Rabholz), and sound (Darron L West), to bring forth his cache of villains and make them live on stage.  Besides Lady Macbeth, there's Richard III who put Shakespeare on the map; the social-climbing steward Malvolio who desires to be count; the murderous usurper Claudius; the psychopath Iago; and the overly-ambitious Macbeth-to mention just a few.


While all of Page's performance of Shakespeare's evildoers are mesmerizing, Page's portrayal of the money-lender Shylock is sterling.  And given the tragic events that are currently unfolding in the Israel-Hamas war, one can't help but listen to Shylock's speech of revenge with new ears: 


"If you prick us, do we not bleed?

If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison

us, do we not die? and if you wrong, shall we not



Patrick Page  (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)


Page points out that Shakespeare's interest in villainy probably began when he was young, when the Earl of Leicester's Men-a group of touring players-came to his hometown with their Morality Plays, complete with the "Vice" figure, a kind of personified sin.  Of course, Page adds, Shakespeare would go on to invent bad guys with far more subtlety than the "Vice" and even outdo his contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, who wrote the very successful Jew of Malta with its Machiavellian hero-villain Barabas.


He notes that Shakespeare's influence is everywhere, including popular culture:  To wit: Claire Underwood in "House of Cards" is cut from the same cloth as Lady Macbeth, and her husband Frank is a latter-day Richard III.  Page encourages audience members to take a close look at Stannis Baratheon, Walter White, and Tony Soprano, all who can "trace their lineage" to Macbeth.


Page is not the first artist to write and perform a solo show on Shakespeare's villains.  Steven Berkoff brought his Shakespeare's Villains to Joe's Pub at the Public Theater in 2000.  Even so, Page puts his own special signature on his venture.  Tapping his chest, he confesses: "In exploring them, I've come to the realization Shakespeare must have confronted over 400 years ago:  that I have all their darkest qualities in me."


Indeed, it is the honesty that Page brings to his one-man play that is its strong suit and makes it more than a mere pedagogical exercise.  Seamlessly directed by Simon Godwin, All the Devils are Here is a must-see.


All the Devils are Here

Through January 7

At the DR Theatre, 103 E. 15th Street, Manhattan

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.