It’s a sign of the times when a play gets upstaged by its YouTube promos. The team behind The Devil You Know, a puppet adaptation of “The Devil and Daniel Webster” at Under the Radar, display a satirical energy in their online parody of gold infomercials that the actual production—leaden, unironic, and woefully under-tempo—sorely needs.
In this American twist on the Faust legend, a world-weary farmer promises his soul to the Devil in exchange for seven years of prosperity. When his debt comes due, the populist champion Senator Daniel Webster helps him declare moral bankruptcy and start afresh.
Frame by frame, the photo album of this play would be gorgeous to look at. Erik Sanko’s haunting puppets have faces that look as weather-worn as the New Hampshire clapboard that encloses Jessica Grindstaff’s evocative set. In every detail, this husband-and-wife design team has created a flawlessly integrated aesthetic.
Writer-director Ping Chong, however, tries to recast the story as a rather facile allegory for the subprime mortgage crisis—mainly by adding two poorly integrated present-day scenes. He wants to lend some of the fable’s blunt moral force to our understanding of contemporary finance, but ends up sapping its simple strength in the process.