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October 19, 2023
Evil All Around Us
All The Devils Are Here: How Shakespeare Invented the Villain
Patrick Page in All The Devils Are Here. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

So much has been written about Shakespeare over the years that it’s a challenge to find a novel approach to discuss his work. Yet actor Patrick Page (“Hadestown,” “Spider-man Turn Off the Dark”) has done just that by examining the bard’s work through the evolution of the villainous character.

To do so, Page, who created and stars in the show, examined Shakespeare’s works chronologically. The actor began with the morality plays that the playwright would have seen when he was only 8. Then there was no villain, only a character called Vice.

In the 90-minute one-man show directed by Simon Godwin, Page traced the development of the ‘bad guy,' giving the background of each play and enacting speeches, many of which contained notable lines. He began with the superstitions of the theater, specifically “‘The so-called Scottish play.’ (Macbeth) and he quoted lines spoken by Lady MacBeth. One might think that the darkness of the theme would create a sobriety about the production, yet Page infused the performance with humor, especially as he interacted with the audience. The intimacy of the DR2 theater allowed him to make eye contact and include his audience. Distinguished by his sonorous deep voice and good looks, he was clad in dark clothing, used few props and performed on a practically bare stage.

Page included Prospero (“The Tempest,”) Claudius (“Hamlet”) and Richard III. As Shakespeare became more skilled as a playwright, his villain became more developed and Page interspersed events from the writer’s own life, showing how his own fortunes affected his work. When Shakespeare fell in love with the Dark Lady he immortalized in the sonnets, he stopped writing tragedies for a while.

Inevitably, Page included Shylock from” The Merchant of Venice” explaining that the Elizabethans were rabidly anti-Semitic. Given the recent horrific events in Gaza and the divisive rallies in NY and around the world, I was uncomfortable, wondering how Page was going to handle Shylock as a villain. The actor set up the scene and delivered the play’s most famous speech in a gentle, almost diffident tone, as if this was not something the moneylender wanted to do but had been driven to do. Page convinced the audience to realize that within all of us is the need for revenge. (Sadly, that theme continues to resonate in the Middle East.)

Despite the heavy theme, Page was always smiling and genial and was an affable host. Shakespeare’s villains got more treacherous until the play reached the evil Iago in “Othello.” Page labeled him a psychopath and defined it for us. He made a political allusion and we all nodded knowingly. He noted that, according to experts, one in 25 people is a psychopath, and since there were 100 in the audience that meant there were 4 psychopaths among us. We laughed nervously as we looked around.

I know many people who won’t willingly attend a performance of a Shakespeare play, people whose only exposure was reading Romeo and Juliet aloud in junior high school. These folks wouldn’t consider an evening of Shakespeare as entertainment, but in skipping Page’s wonderful performance, they would certainly be missing out.

He’s charming and talented. He manages to embody all his characters (sometimes two characters as he delivered a dialogue) and enables us to understand how Shakespeare created the villain we recognize so easily on television and in the movies. It might be in the person of the Lannisters in “Game of Thrones” or Francis Underwood in “House of Cards,” but we recognize evil when we see it. And long before television villains were imagined, Shakespeare created MacBeth, Iago and Richard III as prototypes.

DR2 Theatre
103 E. 15th Street
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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