The Devil of Delancey Street
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 20, 2005
The Devil of Delancey Street is the latest musical from the quirky and singular theatre auteur Sharon Fogarty. A little rough around the edges and feeling not quite fully baked, it is nevertheless a charmer—a smart, sassy, wickedly subversive piece with lots on its mind and lots of unabashed heart.
It tells two interlocking stories. One is about Mrs. Mary Chaste, a woman in her 40s whose husband has died leaving his vast fortune to the church run by the corrupt Pastor Beagle. Now suddenly destitute, Mrs. Chaste and her 16-year-old daughter Grace find their way from their former Long Island home to the scrappy Lower East Side of Manhattan. Just as they are getting themselves established, Mrs. Chaste is abducted and brought to a brothel, where she is tied up in the cellar. Grace seeks assistance from Dr. Pang. Will they be able to find Mrs. Chaste? Will Mrs. Chaste escape from the whorehouse?
The second story concerns Damian, who is, quite forthrightly, the devil of the show's title. When we first meet him, he's doing his evil deeds right here in Delancey Street. But after he encounters Mrs. Chaste—and subsequently comes to her aid in her basement prison—her spunky spirituality leads him to question if he might not wish to be an angel instead. Two actual angels—Sarafina and Malachi—watch over and then abet his transformation, from heaven.
The ideas in Devil are familiar from previous Fogarty outings: organized religion is a haven for hypocrites, sexual repression is unhealthy, free expression is to be valued above all (Mrs. Chaste scandalized her husband by writing scary horror stories for little Grace, which the church censored and suppressed). Fogarty's idea of God is not exactly traditional; it reminds me of E.Y. Harburg's, the One who, in the song "Necessity" from Finian's Rainbow, says "go out and have fun." Fogarty's Lord is similarly loose and unconventional in His thinking: devils can become angels if they fall in love, evil pastors (Beagle is conveniently bisexual—and plenty horny—in his eager pursuit of the almighty dollar) can be defeated with a rousing anthem entitled "Now That's Fucking!"
The play is full of the offbeat humor and songs that are Fogarty's trademark. There are some really wonderful and original theatrical notions in it, notably the character of Delia, a telephone operator who is, apparently, everybody's secretary (Beagle's, Pang's, Damian's—even God's). Bradley True's hairdo as Pastor Beagle is a delicious visual joke. And there is at least one gloriously transcendent sequence, the one in which Mrs. Chaste and Grace earn money on Delancey Street by selling songs and poems to the passersby.
Fogarty is the show's director as well as its librettist-composer-lyricist, and also its star (as Mrs. Chaste). She's unwavering in her artistic vision here, as ever. Joining her on stage are some of her frequent collaborators, including the invaluable Karen Christie-Ward as Delia and Matthew Porter as the kindly Dr. Pang. New to Fogarty's world (and indeed to the New York stage, for he's emigrated here from England) is the formidable John Cunningham, who acts and sings Damian beautifully. Peter Dizozza plays accompaniment from stage left on a tiny keyboard, providing appropriate continuity and underscoring that's the glue holding together Fogarty's smart but fanciful tale.
I mentioned earlier that The Devil of Delancey Street still feels a bit unfinished—the tales of Damian and Mrs. Chaste weave together seamlessly, but neither, except in the "Songs and Poems" number, feels comfortably enmeshed with the lower-class street scene that Fogarty wants to frame her show within. A bit of revision—which may have already happened by now; that's one of the luxuries of doing live theatre—will likely smooth this out.
Still, it's an entertaining and provocative evening, and well worth checking out, especially if you've not yet had a chance to sample to gently subversive anti-musical theatre style that is uniquely Sharon Fogarty's.