Tony nominee Patrick Page, a titan of the theatre, takes to the virtual stage with his one-man show, All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain, presented by the Shakespeare Theatre and filmed by Joo Kno Media, with film direction by Alan Paul.
Mr. Page is a formidable actor who is equally at home in musicals as he is with the great classics. From the Grinch to the Inquisitor in Saint Joan to his Tony-nominated role as Hades in Hadestown, he is a showman whose magnetic presence and charisma light up the stage, always to the delight of the audience. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that an 80-minute show featuring Mr. Page performing Shakespeare’s greatest villains is not only mesmerizing and compelling but also greatly entertaining. With his commanding voice and expressive face, you will find yourself deep under his spell with each new character that he presents – and just when you think you have a favorite, he wows us with the next one.
Page has crafted an evening that includes anecdotes from Shakespearean mythology to psychological analyses of certain characters. He opens the show with the “unsex me” speech from Lady Macbeth, as she conjures the strength to perform evil acts. It is a preview of what is to come as dramatic lighting and a very effective sound design set the scene for him to recite an unnerving incantation to the dark spirits. With Richard III, Page bypasses the more well-known “winter of our discontent” soliloquy and instead chooses the speech Richard (Gloucester) delivers in Henry VI Part III, which foreshadows the events to come in the next play.
One of the most riveting moments in the show is Page’s portrayal of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. He precedes the “Hath not a Jew…” speech with the scene where Antonio and Shylock agree to the contract binding Antonio to a pound of flesh should he not pay the loan back in time. The juxtaposition of the two scenes is effective and startling, one almost playful, the other chilling and grim. Page asks us to think about what our response might have been had we been on the receiving end of insults and indignities as Shylock had – would we not want revenge for the betrayals suffered?
This is followed by a delightfully repellant Malvolio being carried away by his ambition and arrogance, a doomed Claudius, on his knees hoping for repentance but finding none in his heart, and a sociopathic Iago, gaslighting both Othello and the audience. For the latter, Page’s face in closeup is cloying, skillfully setting a trap for his general. A lot has been written about “Zoom” theater but as shown in this production, a virtual performance can deliver something that an in-person show cannot: the camera close up on a master actor’s face, every subtle gesture and emotion captured and revealed. And when that actor is someone of Mr. Page’s talent, it is thrilling.
Page sets up the evening as a progression, presenting the characters in chronological order and positing that Shakespeare wrote more compelling villains as he learned to develop them over time. This evolution results in his greatest and most complex antihero, Macbeth, about whom Page says “his tragedy is not that he is evil but that he chooses evil.” With his vivid and suggestive eyes and sonorous voice, he channels Macbeth’s struggle with his conscience—which he loses when the infamous dagger appears before him. Expert editing by Ryan Risley presents us the actor from different angles, mirroring the internal battle for the character’s soul. As Macbeth loses his humanity, Page brings the show to its stunning emotional climax.
The COVID pandemic has impacted the theatre community in devastating ways but it has also given us a brave new world of virtual theater. Thanks to technology, all the world’s a stage for Patrick Page and his spectacular show, and for that, we should be very grateful.
All the Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain is available online at https://www.shakespearetheatre.org/ through July 28. Tickets are $25.