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Excerpt from Having a Hell of a Time
When Satan takes the stage, audiences wind up with angelic smiles

by William Henry III

His company may not be much esteemed in heaven, but, from Eve onward, mere mortals have found Sata a singularly seductive fellow--spookily charming, mordantly funny, even sexy in a sulphur-scented way. Writers have been especially beguiled, from Marlowe and Milton to Shaw and Stephen Vincent Benet. Indeed, while putting God on display as a character is normally a guarantee of literary disaster, it sometimes seems that stories about his arch-opposite just can't miss. Presumably there is a sound theological basis for all this: virtue could hardly be considered virtuous if it were also indisputably fun, while a patently offensive Old Nick would have trouble procuring the ruin of souls.

Some playwrights. like Shel Silverstein in The Devil and Billy Markham, presume that Mr. Scratch has nothing to teach mankind: the sensible response is to spot the fiend's tricks and escape perdition. Other dramatists, like David Mamet in Bobby Gould in Hell, recall that Beelzebub is a fallen angel and reckon he must be something of a moral philosopher. Both authors seem to think nothing could be more instructive that a sojourn in Hades to enhance the remainder of a life back on earth. They give that opportunity not only to the title characters of their two one-act plays but also, vicariously, to audiences in a double bill that opened last week at New York City's Lincoln Center.

Billy Markham is a talking blues about a failed songwriter who decides teh devil could not possibly be any worse than the music publishers and producers who have thwarted his career. A gambler, boozer, womanizer and general hellion, Markham tosses away eternity in exchange for a single, futile roll of the dice, then squanders what reprieves are offered in unrepentant revelry. He nonetheless stumps Satan twice, escaping the first time and settling down the second time into a perverse sort of domestic bliss. Markham's good-ole-boy world view is distasteful: women are treated as property, and both defeats of the devil depend on the notion that homosexuality is a fate worse than damnation. But Silverstein's script, told in verse with occasional bursts of music, is rowdy and rousing and raunchily uproarious, especially in a song about a gala party where saints and sinners mingle("Richard III is comparing his hump with Quasimodo.") The sole performer, as both Markham and his demonic adversary, is Dennis Locorriere, erstwhile singer-songwriter of the pop group Dr. Hook. His energy is boundless, his timing flawless, his depravity seemingly bottomless in this bewitching romp.

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