The Devil and Daniel Webster
SCT presents the world premiere of The Devil and Daniel Webster, adapted by Pulitzer Prize-winning, local playwright Robert Schenkkan from the classic short story by Stephen Vincent Benét. With direction by Rita Giomi, this chilling tale about materialism and young love, which opens February 17, features larger-than-life puppetry, evocative music and captivating magic.
Set in New Hampshire in 1829, The Devil and Daniel Webster tells the story of an ill-fated farmer, Jabez Stone, who sells his soul to the devil for seven years of luck and prosperity. When it is time to pay the devil his due, Jabez calls on attorney Senator Daniel Webster to lend a hand. Together they take the devil to court, where they are faced with a jury stacked with notorious American villains from throughout history, such as Al Capone and Lizzie Borden.
“Robert Schenkkan has utilized the magic realism that Benét employed to craft this tall tale ghost story, and the result is a fantastical play that not only sparks introspection but also entertains with its alternately sinister and stalwart characters,” said SCT Artistic Director Linda Hartzell. “At its heart, this story warns us of the consequences of wanting something so much that you are willing to lose sight of yourself, or compromise yourself, to achieve it.”
Schenkkan won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Kentucky Cycle in 1992—the first play to win the prize before reaching New York. Among many other accolades, Schenkkan has written four new plays in the last 12 months. In addition to SCT’s The Devil and Daniel Webster, By the Waters of Babylon premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Marriage of Miss Hollywood and King Neptune debuted at the University of Texas at Austin, and Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates premiered at the Mark Taper Forum. Schenkkan also writes for film and television—he was a co-screenwriter on The Quiet American, based on the novel by Graham Greene, and will soon start work on an HBO mini-series about the war in the Pacific for Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story The Devil and Daniel Webster was based on Faust, but was set in 19th-century New England. It was published in 1937 in the Saturday Evening Post and won an O. Henry Award. Benét adapted the tale into a one-act opera premiering in 1939, and it was also made into a 1941 motion picture entitled All That Money Can Buy. Benét won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for his quintessential American war poem John Brown's Body.
Every ghost story must find its own time and place, and have its prey—someone who doesn’t quite understand the mysteries all around him. You couldn’t ask for a more opportune setting than New Hampshire around 1829, or a nicer, harder-working man than Jabez Stone. Sadly, Jabez is plagued with horrible luck. All he wants is to save his farm, marry Abigail Stevens, start a family and live a decent life. Unfortunately for poor Jabez, Miser Stevens, Abigail’s father, will have nothing to do with him, until they strike an impossible bargain—Jabez must pay Abigail’s height in gold to earn her hand in marriage.
Once they’ve shaken hands, Jabez sets straight to plowing, and his plow sets straight to breaking. It’s enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil for a new beginning. With that, the Devil arrives and signs the deal in Jabez’s own blood—seven years of love, happiness, wealth and power but then his soul belongs to the Devil, aka Scratch. After marrying Abigail, having four beautiful children and growing richer and more influential, Jabez realizes that six years have flown by. Of course, Scratch is on hand to remind Jabez of the mortgage due.
On the eve of the 7th anniversary, Jabez pleads for help from the prestigious orator and lawyer, Senator Daniel Webster. Never one to shrink from a challenge, or let a fellow New Hampshire lad down, Webster agrees to come to Jabez’s aid. When the Devil arrives to collect on his debt, Daniel dares him to take the case to a court of law.
Eager to match wits with Webster, the Devil agrees. Scratch, trying to stack the deck, supplies the judge and jury with some of America’s most notorious characters: Benedict Arnold, Blackbeard, General Sheridan, Nathan Bedford Forest, John Wilkes Booth, Lizzie Borden and Al Capone. With the proceedings weighted against him, things look bleak for Webster’s case—but never underestimate the powerful persuasion and pragmatism of a New Hampshire man.
The cast for The Devil and Daniel Webster includes Connell Brown Jr. as Ensemble, Alban Dennis as Spark, Allen Galli as Miser Stevens, Sean G. Griffin as Scratch, Chance Mullen as Ensemble, Carol Roscoe as Abigail Stevens, Lada Vishtak as Ensemble, Lathrop Walker as Jabez Stone, and Richard Ziman as Daniel Webster. Garlyn Punao, Paul Morgan Stetler and Lada Vishtak are the understudies.
The production features choreography by Jason Ohlberg , set design by Matthew Smucker, costume design by Sarah Nash Gates, light design by Michael Wellborn, sound design by Chris R. Walker, puppet design by Tristan M.T. Dalley, puppet coaching by Douglas N. Paasch, dialect coaching by Alyssa Keene, and magic consulting by Steffan Soule.
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