In Ean Miles Kessler’s new play Devil Lay Me Down, Julian (Joseph Ryan Williamson) is coming home after being released from prison. His father Marcus (Stephen D’Ambrose) and his young girlfriend Ro (Mara Gannon) are waiting for him, and they are anxious to get him back on the right track. As the hour gets later and Julian and Marcus get drunker, secrets from the past come to light, including the crime that put Julian behind bars.
There is a lot to recommend about Devil Lay Me Down. Stephen D’Ambrose is well-cast as Marcus. He looks like he belongs in rural Texas or an episode of Justified, and he plays Marcus’ mood swings expertly, going from storyteller and jokester to a short-tempered, violent man. His stories and rambling monologues are easily the highlight of the show. Joseph Ryan Williamson as Julian is also very good, and his quiet, simmering anger serves as a nice contrast to Marcus’ loud frivolity. The play’s big twist is also a nice payoff for a patient audience, and the final scenes are disturbing.
The biggest problem with Devil Lay Me Down is the show’s length. Currently, the show is 90 minutes with one intermission. Ideally, the show should be about 75-80 minutes with no intermission, and I think that Kessler could easily tighten up the script. At times, the dialogue gets too indulgent and doesn’t serve the play overall. Fixing the length problem would also fix other script problems, like the timing of certain character revelations. Julian’s big revelation should be held off as long as possible, but as an audience member, I need more insight into these characters and their motivations. Also, Mara Gannon over-acts a bit in the first half, though she did pull it together for Ro’s big final monologue at the end of the play.
With the right editor, Devil Lay Me Down could go from a play with good ideas to a really great play, but it isn’t quite there, not yet. I recommend seeing it, but go in with the expectations of seeing a work still in progress.
Devil Lay Me Down is playing at Theater For The New City thru August 22. General admission tickets are $15. It is part of the Dream Up Festival, which is running through September 7, and features 24 productions including 19 world premieres. Click here for the full list of shows, and click here for tickets to Devil Lay Me Down.
Remaining performances for Devil Lay Me Down are as follows:
Wednesday, August 20 at 9:00 PM
Thursday, August 21 at 6:30 PM
Friday, August 22 at 9:00 PM
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003