The History of the Devil. Photo by Julia Milz.
Although Fantasia specializes in filmed representations of the eerie, the grotesque, the macabre and the blood-spattered, they’ve been known to branch out and present events in different media while nonetheless keeping well within the boundaries of the festival. It’s under the banner of Montreal’s most popular genre festival that Title 66’s production of Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil returns, more than a year after its original run in early 2012.
Barker’s play puts Lucifer on trial for his crimes against humanity, with two potential outcomes: if he’s found guilty, he relinquishes his entire existence. If he’s found innocent, however, he lands himself a choice spot in heaven. The play takes the form of a supernatural courtroom drama, in which eight cast members play a whopping 34 characters over the course of nearly three hours — a daunting proposition for anyone, but particularly impressive considering that director Jeremy Michael Segal is only 22 years old.
“I’ve been a huge Clive Barker fan since I was in high school,” says Segal. A chance encounter with the horror master’s Incarnations: Three Plays in a used bookstore led Segal, a graduate of Dawson’s theatre program, to choose The History of the Devil as his burgeoning company’s next project.
Although previously unfamiliar with Barker’s playwriting oeuvre, Segal fell in love with the material. “I loved the plays and thought they needed to be produced. Also, directing was something I always wanted to do,” he says. Of course, this puts the word “always” into perspective — Segal graduated in 2011, and The History of the Devil was only the third production in Title 66’s history.
As new as they may have been to the city’s theatre scene, Segal and Title 66 soon found a fan in one of Montreal’s most eminent connoisseurs of the macabre and the otherworldly: Fantasia co-director Mitch Davis.
“He just happened to come see the show,” explains Segal, “and really enjoyed it. I think something he really appreciated was how young and passionate we were.” Segal and Davis were soon connected through the magic of Facebook, and the Title 66 team was offered the opportunity to stage the production between the hallowed walls of Place des Arts.
”I’m super grateful. It’s amazing that he was willing to take a chance on us,” says Segal. Davis has been equally effusive with praise since the first production, calling it “alive with ingenuity and flair” and “dark, inspired bliss.”
Facebook may have been instrumental in getting Title 66 onstage at Place des Arts, but Segal explains that it did even more than that: it enabled them to receive the approval of Clive Barker himself.
“His team has been very supportive. I sent them a package with all of our production photos from the show and reviews and the poster from last year. I’m friends with his partner on Facebook, and he sent me this message saying how he and Clive were looking at the pictures and how they were so excited for our show.” Not bad for something he picked up on a whim in a used bookstore.
Inspired by the work of famed avant-garde director Robert Wilson (probably best known for his work with musicians like Tom Waits and Lou Reed), Segal’s production of The History of the Devil weaves a dark and twisted tapestry that emphasizes colourful imagery and body movement. With its extensive cast of characters, a timeframe that extends over thousands of years and a defined satirical edge, it’s a striking work from a writer generally more associated with horror novels and short stories, as well as the long-running Hellraiser franchise.
Theatrical productions may be few and far between on the Fantasia roster, but The History of the Devil fits snugly amid its many dismemberments and haunted mansions. Although he admits that there was certainly risk involved in taking on such a complex work, Segal also stands by the work of his co-conspirators, who’ve managed to consistently top themselves with the scope and ambition of each successive production. “We’re pretty insane, but we still somehow manage to pull it off!”
The History of the Devil is a tremendous achievement for a company of any size or level of experience, and Segal admits that taking a chance on such a wildly ambitious production paid off. When asked about the company’s plans for the future, however, Segal is understandably a little reticent. “Looking into the future past this is a little too much right now,” he says. It’s hard to disagree with him. Whatever he’s got cooking is bound to be impressive. ■
The History of the Devil plays at Place des Arts (175 Ste-Catherine W., Cinquième Salle) from Aug. 1–3, 8 p.m., $21.40