Economist John Maynard Keynes once said that “in the long run, we’re all dead,” and it was perhaps this saying that inspired lively American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire in his quirky comedy-drama A Devil Inside. Without giving away too much of the thrilling climax, at the end the lights go out with more than half the cast lying dead on stage. Thankfully, though, the murder and mayhem doesn’t seem forced or labourered at all, and seems like a natural conclusion to a hyper-bizarre series of coincidences.
This recent play from Lindsay-Abaire is being performed in Melbourne by Act-O-Matic 3000, a theatre group who have taken it upon themselves to bring to Australian audiences some innovative and cutting-edge plays. In the words of the program notes, A Devil Inside was a change of pace for the group, who have recognised the importance of a good laugh and aim “to share (this) with the gravitas-weary independent theatre goer.” Amen.
A Devil Inside is the ultimate ensemble performance. Not only does it require the cast of six to work closely together, but it also requires the other creative elements to play their part. The lighting, set design, up beat soundtrack and arty costume design all complement each other well. The set is a wonderful testament to the power of a creative set designer, who in this case has managed to transform the cramped confines of the Mechanics Institute stage into what seems like half the Lower East Side of New York. Sean Kingma (who also directed the play) and Adam Kennon are the two who deserve credit for this feat, which sees just a few carefully selected bits of carpentry, create half a dozen locations.
The play is very American, and the script appears to be unedited for an Australian audience. One consequence is that the Australian cast is forced to put on almost-but-not-quite Nu-Yorka accents, and the other is that a few of the subtler references (often gag punchlines) are lost on the local audience. A similar affliction fell upon the MTC’s Take Me Out last year, in part explaining that production’s lukewarm response. It seems possible that with a gentle rewrite A Devil Inside could be set locally, with the Yarra replacing the Hudson and Wilson’s Promontory substituting for the murderous Poconos Mountains. With just a bit of tweaking, this already strong play could resonate even more closely with a local audience.