Red Devil Green Devil/The Blacksmith and His Three Wishes | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Red Devil Green Devil/The Blacksmith and His Three Wishes 

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RED DEVIL GREEN DEVIL

Redmoon Theatre

at the Organic Theater Company

THE BLACKSMITH AND HIS THREE WISHES

Terrapin Theatre Company

at the Garage

Red Devil Green Devil owes a debt to the grotesque guignols of Punch and Judy's dysfunctional household, as well as to the Road Runner and his coyote pursuer, but Blair Thomas and Lisa Kelley's story adds a distinctly modern twist: the old formulas provide plenty of conflict but not enough character to make the conflict of interest to any but the participants.

The two title characters begin as friends, Green inviting Red to Tea, and Red arriving accompanied by a froglike baby (or a babylike frog, if you wish). All is harmonious until Green carelessly lights a match, which so distresses the apparently pyrophobic Red that it brings out well, the devil in him. His impish anticonscience (played by a hand-puppet doppelganger) urges Red to exact revenge for Green's offense. The discovery of a map leading to buried treasure exacerbates their enmity, taking both Red and Green on a race through field, forest, river, desert, and even dreams. After a variety of stratagems--mischievous but surprisingly nonviolent--the two finally face off only to realize the folly of their squabbling. They agree to discard their weapons and their libidos and to share the wealth.

Identifying the two heroes as "devils" gives them the amorality necessary if their contest is to be exciting and inventive, but in other ways they're unlike the thoroughly evil creatures of conventional theology. Their antisocial actions are motivated by only a small part of their psyche--they're not all bad. In this they're not unlike human beings, who also must choose between conflicting desires and sometimes choose wrongly (though one audience member consistently referred to Green as the "good devil" and Red as the "bad"). Whatever one's interpretation, the revelation that friends can quarrel and still make up is never more timely than now, when any faux pas can escalate into a lawsuit or divorce.

The production has all the clever theatrical contrivances we have come to expect from Redmoon shows--not the least of which are a backdrop ingeniously mounted on a scroll for easy changes of locale and a large illustrative banner drawn from someone's head to represent a dream. Effective use is also made of the trap doors and apron lights present onstage for In the Flesh, the Organic Theater's regular show. Mickle Maher and Thomas make an agile and expressive pair of masked devils (of the Javanese variety, to judge by their appearance), propelled by percussionist Robert Rolston and a seemingly inexhaustible array of instruments that make noise when hit, shaken, or blown into.

The devil in The Blacksmith and His Three Wishes is no pyrophobe--indeed, his first onstage action is to conjure fire in the palm of his hand. He's no ambivalent quasi humanist either but the old-fashioned cheatin' gambler of Appalachian folklore. Having heard that Wicked John, the blacksmith, is "meaner than the devil himself," Mr. D. comes to establish his professional reputation by claiming the ironworker's soul. Little does he realize that his ill-tempered prey has recently accepted three wishes from a stubbornly altruistic guardian angel and has used them to insure himself against the theft of his tools, his seat, and his money. How this misanthropy leads to the liberation of the world from the devil's harassment provides plenty of fun, even to modern audiences who don't know a blacksmith from a farrier and probably have never met anyone of either profession. Chris Walz's witty, tuneful songs (in particular the wistful "Wishes," which is sophisticated enough to please adults) are likewise commendable, as are the performances of W. Whitney Spurgeon as the curmudgeonly Wicked John, Deb Miller as the southern belle Angel, and understudy Wade Childress as a devil outsmarted at his own game by an adversary even more slippery.

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