2 Ways to Deal With the Devil
(New York Times Theater Review, December 4, 1989)
by Frank Rich
...Shel Silverstein, whose extended monologue, "The Devil and Billy Markham," opens "Oh, Hell," is also a Mamet colleague--whether in one-act bills at the Ensemble Studio Theater, in contributing to the pages of Playboy magazine or in collaborating on the screenplay for "Things Change." Mr. Silverstein, who may be best known for his songs and children's books, can also be an antic playwright. He once reduced "Hamlet" to a country-western ballad (in "The Crate"), and he has also reimagined "Faust" in the terms of contemporary television game shows ("The Lady or the Tiger"). But "The Devil and Billy Markham," however redolent of its author's idiosyncratic voice, quickly proves to be the hell an audience must slog through to get to "Bobby Gould."
The play, performed by the rock singer Dennis Locorriere, is occasionally sung but mostly talked blues (in verse) that recounts the attempts of a Nashville singer to beat the devil in craps, pool, and love. There are some inside jokes about the recording industry, many harmless effusions of scatology and, near the end, a playful description of a devil's wedding at which Catherine the Great is "making a date with the horse of Paul Revere." Just about any five minutes of "The Devil and Billy Markham" would convey enough of its flavor. It goes on for nearly an hour.
Under Mr. Mosher's direction, Mr. Locorriere gives an ingratiating performance, and he works hard enough to break out in a hellish sweat. The audience's sweat is prompted by anxiety. Watching "The Devil and Billy Markham" is like being trapped at a bar with an amiable drunk who simply refuses to let go of your arm or his convoluted, often-told tale. You know the spiel won't end until one of you falls off his stool.