Review: ‘The Devil and Billy Markham’ at the JewelBox Theater
The Devil was created to be outwitted, at least in the mind of Shel Silverstein, author of the poem The Devil and Billy Markham. For those of you who haven’t read it, the work can be found here, and I heartily recommend it. As a quick summary, Billy Markham is a country singer who’s down on his luck and rolls dice with the Devil. With only his wits, Billy faces down Lucifer and Jehovah both before coming to the end of his journey.
While The Devil and Billy Markham is unquestionably a good poem, it is an even better play. A one-man play, that is, most recently performed April 23 and 24 by Jonah Weston and directed by Jamie Rea at Seattle’s JewelBox Theater.
The primary challenge of a one-man play is keeping the characters distinct. Playing God, the Devil, and a sleazy hustler is no easy feat. Fortunately, Mr. Weston pulled it off brilliantly. Never did I have even a moment’s confusion as to which character he was voicing. I could have closed my eyes and still known exactly who was speaking. Of course, that would have been a shame, as I would have missed Mr. Weston’s expressive visual cues. I especially liked the way he held himself when portraying poor Billy roasting on a spit in Hell. Creepy.
The show was a very minimalist one, with the only props being a glass of whiskey and a handful of different jackets. This style worked very well in the small space of the Jewelbox, because it allowed for a more basic, emotional connection to the performance. In a one-man show like this, fancy lighting displays and a cavernous theater would only have been distractions.
After saying that, it’s ironic that my only complaint for the show was that towards the end it seemed that the spotlight had gotten stuck at a very awkward angle, only illuminating half of Mr. Weston’s face unless he stood at a specific place on the stage.
If you missed The Devil and Billy Markham, or saw it and wish to again, there’s a good chance it will return to Seattle in the not-so-distant future. It was a fantastic show, and anyone who can should see it.
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