It's May 18, 1945, V-E Day, and Americans and Parisians celebrate victory in Europe. But within their midst, cheering the winners on, are two underworld figures who take account of the carnage of World War II and deliberate over their future roles in the universe. In a time-honored theatrical conceit, Death and the Devil assume human form and undergo the understandable experience of midlife crisis in Colin P. Delaney's engaging and thoughtful hour-long play, Scratch's Last Lament.
In their present incarnations, Death (Jonathan Brooks) and Scratch (Rus Gutin) are vital yet overburdened men, handsomely dressed in double-breasted suits and full of male libido and bravado. Being friends over the millennia, they dine together at a Paris café, consuming three bottles of century-old wine but never touching their plates as they muse over topics trivial and traumatic related to the war and their raison d'être. Toasting women and winning and wine itself, Scratch engages Death in an existential discussion on the meaning of the war and their roles in it. Death, assuming the airs of a British dandy, acts nonchalant over the weighty business of facilitating the murders of 50 million people. Meanwhile, Scratch, with the personality of an anxious, self-reflective Wall Street hustler, questions his own identity as a consequence of losing the war. Through reflections on Hitler, Hell, and the pursuit of happiness, Scratch betrays his all-too-human foibles and desires and begs Death to help him transcend his existence in deviltry.
Scratch's Last Lament was an enjoyable theatrical exercise, if limited by its rudimentary dramatic action and simplistic philosophical musings. The characters' responses to the enormity of loss and smashing of innocence caused by World War II mirror the changing way people viewed war and experienced religion. Personifying two powerful forces behind the war provided a new lens through which to view and revise the meaning of existence, the nature of conflict, and the definition of morality.
Also laudable about this play were its high production values. Brooks and Gutin's portrayals were quite entertaining and gave life to the ideas of the script. Some moments, however, were either overacted, such as when Death was challenged on his insecurities, or underplayed, such as during Scratch's escalating self-confrontations. Direction, by Dara DeVito, was focused but needed to nurture more the beats of the two-scenes. The text should have provided a richer sense of the world of the play, evoking more of the war and the lengthy history of the characters' life experiences. Compensating for this deficiency was the adorable and appropriate Parisian café set design and the spot-on historical pop recordings in both French and English (Thaddeus Delonis).
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Copyright 2003 Adam Cooper