THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE at Aurora Theatre

Last night I got to see George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple at Aurora Theatre — one of the very few Shaw plays I’ve actually seen. I know, the Aurora’s done about eight, and even Berkeley Rep just did one a while ago, but that’s actually been the problem: just like Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare, old GBS is done often enough that there never seems to be a rush. There’s always a new play by a new playwright that’s only going to run for a week before it disappears forever.

Well, now I’m a convert. This show is funny, fresh and remarkably contemporary, given that it’s set in 1777. Dealing with the futility of war and the incompetence of bureaucracies — sound contemporary? — it’s Shaw’s only play set in America (although one of the funniest characters is a droll British general, played by Warren David Keith in an almost-show-stealing role).

I say “almost-show-stealing” because Gabriel Marin, as the Devil’s Disciple himself, can certainly hold the stage whenever he appears, as you know if you’ve seen him in Bug, A Streetcar Named Desire or Tim Bauer’s tour de force I’ll Be Home For Christmas, a play that, though only about 9 minutes long, surely appears high on Gabe’s resumé.

Okay, yes, I know and have worked with Gabe (and Søren Oliver and Anthony Nemirovsky, for that matter). But I have to be completely honest: the cast rocks. And the Aurora’s a great place to watch them work. The worst seat in the house is what would be the fourth row in any big old theatre, and the thrust configuration automatically leads to more natural performances, since there’s no “cheating out to the front.”

From the sparkling writing to the remarkable acting to the simple sets, this is a production that makes you want to run to apologize to the old guy you ushered with a couple years ago who kept going on and on about how George Bernard Shaw was so much better than Shakespeare and should be produced more. Or maybe that’s just me.

George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, through Dec 7. Tickets at auroratheatre.org.

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