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Reviewed by:
  • The White Devil dir. by Louisa Proske
  • Ameer Sohrawardy
The White Devil Presented by The Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation at The Red Bull Theater, New York. 03-04 2019. Directed by Louisa Proske. Designed by Kate Noll. Lighting Design by Jiyoun Chang. Music and Sound Design by Chad Raines. Video design by Yana Birÿkova. With Lisa Birnbaum (Vittoria), Tommy Schrider (Flamineo), Derek Smith (Lodovico/Camillo), Daniel Oreskes (Brachiano), Socorro Santiago (Cornelia), Jenny Bacon (Isabella), T. Ryder Smith (Francisco de Medici), Robert Cuccioli (Monticelso), and others.

Audiences at The Red Bull Theater's production of The White Devil were seated around a three-quarter rectangular stage. At the rear of the stage, there was a glass-enclosed corridor, with one sliding door allowing access to the forestage (and the audience), and another sliding door at the back of the corridor allowing actors access to the backstage. Levolor blinds trimmed the edges of the glass corridors and were deployed as stage curtains. Above the main stage there was a large flat-screen TV which projected action taking place off-stage. Louisa Proske's production made creative, relevant use of such modern apparatuses to explore the timeliness of this 427-year-old play for today's audiences. She used screens to effectively convey a sense of the play's expansive geography. Characters who were outside of Italy appeared on the screen. When they travelled to Italy, audiences saw them walking out of the frame of the television. The next moment, the characters would appear on stage via the sliding doors. But more pertinently, Proske's use of large and small screens illuminated how political violence was (and continues to be) mediated by proxies.

In Webster's play, subjugated go-betweens like Lodovico and Flamineo have no means to advance financially or socially except by performing criminal activities on behalf of "nobles" who wish to keep their names, hands, and consciences unsullied. "Princes give rewards by their own hands, / But punishment by the hands of others," (5.6.188–9) as one character succinctly puts it. Webster dramatized, through his play's dumb shows, the most violent murders that these commissioned proxies performed. Proske's use of screens to project these moments illuminated the urgency of the 1612 play's concerns while arguing for the contemporariness of those concerns. When Monticelso referred to his black book of "notorious offenders" to suggest hiring Lodovico, the Cardinal told Francisco, "for though it teach not / The art of conjuring, yet in it lurk / The names of many devils." (4.1.32–6) Proske's decision to initially "conjure" her Lodovico through a televised image was consistent with [End Page 598]

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Flamineo (Tommy Schrider), Socorro Santiago (Cornelia), and Vittoria (Lisa Birnbaum) in The White Devil, dir. Louisa Proske. The Red Bull Theater, 2019. Photo by Carol Rosegg, courtesy of The Red Bull Theater.

Webster's reference to devilish proxies who magically become available, at the fingertips of the powerful.

Initially, proxies insulate their powerful lords, providing a reassuring sense of distance from their crimes. When Brachiano commissions the deaths of Camillo and Isabella through a Conjurer, the magician shows the murders to Lord Brachiano in a dumb show. Proske staged the scene by having her Brachiano view the dual murders on the TV screen. Two effects were thereby achieved. Pre-recording the murders allowed Proske to stage the poisoning of Isabella and the pommel-horse execution of Camillo for maximum grisliness. As shocked as I was by the murders, Daniel Oreskes's Brachiano registered the same sanguine disengagement from the dark deeds that Webster's dumb show allowed the character. In both Webster's original and The Red Bull's adaptation, spectatorship implied non-complicity. [End Page 599]

By the end of the play, however, the guilt that Brachiano had been suppressing returned, punctuated by the appearance of the very subjugated people who had initially served his purposes. While preparing to meet the military forces of Isabella's brother, Francisco, Brachiano dons a "beaver" (which has been poisoned by Lodovico.) During the combat scene, Proske had her combatants wear virtual reality headsets instead of beavers and military helmets...


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pp. 598-602
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