Off-Broadway Review: “Devil of Choice” Falters at LAByrinth Theater Company at Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Devil of Choice” Falters at LAByrinth Theater Company at Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (Closed Saturday June 9, 2018)
By Maggie Diaz Bofill
Directed by Shira-Lee Shalit
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Faustian bargain: (idiomatic) A deal in which one focuses on present gain without considering the long-term consequences.”

Although one of the characters in the new play “Devil of Choice,” produced by Labyrinth Theater Company at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, is a popular professor whose highly sought-after class focuses on “Faust,” he certainly disregards the implications associated with violating morality. Playwright Maggie Diaz Bofill chooses to create several devils her characters may broker with, but the resulting short-term gain always seems to be carnal. This conception is the driving force behind the tumultuous love triangle which monopolizes the plot but offers no resolution or consequences for the proceedings in this world premiere.

The first scene exposes the strained relationship between Sal, a narcissistic male chauvinist and his indignant, verbally abused, codependent wife Pepper as they are on their way to the University where Sal will begin his new professorship. In the second scene Sal meets Delia a single, lonely college administrator who will soon disclose she is looking for love and an everlasting relationship. The foreshadowing is quite heavy handed and before long the love triangle is initiated, and the sexual encounters begin. Why either woman would vie for the attention of such a despicable human being remains a mystery.

The structure of the work relies on very short scenes or monologues punctuated by music composed and played by violinist Melissa McGregor, which attempts to reflect the present or upcoming emotional state of being. The only connection this has to the plot is that Pepper once played the violin, gave up on that career, and is now a paltry music librarian. This formulation lends nothing to the dramatic flow and only sabotages the ability of the actors to establish a deep emotional commitment to their characters. The brief episodes vary from vulgar to, contrived, to comedic outbursts but the writing rarely provides enough substance to sustain the storyline.

David Zayas, as the alpha male, provides enough confidence and bravura to produce a believable Sal, but stands alone without much emotional investment in his on-stage relationships, as deceiving and contradictory as that may be. Elizabeth Canavan zeros in on the downtrodden Pepper and finds opportunities in the script to use her talent to shine. Florencia Lozano extracts strength and bears the weakness of Delia. It is difficult to find vulnerability in the material that is supplied or to create any likable characters the audience may care about.

There are no new insights into the common themes addressed, and the production feels more like an exercise for the actors, given the many fits and starts. Director Shira-Lee Shalit does little to prompt the emotional depth of the characters and relies mostly on comedy to move the action along. The problem that arises, is that in the current socio-political landscape, the topics addressed are neither a comedy nor an exercise, but rather life altering events that will proliferate a change in the structure of society.