The Devil is in the Details


The Soldier’s Tale had a limited set, limited props and not huge fanfare of any kind. It was simple in execution and that is what made it a very interesting and effective play, particularly the portrayal of the devil. The play begins with a narrator and a soldier, Joseph, on ten days leave from the army. The music at the beginning is reminiscent of a victory march, and is deceptively relaxing for what is coming. Joseph is wearing a red soldier’s uniform and this is important to note because red is a color commonly used to symbolize the devil throughout the play. Anything red is something we should have a careful, suspicious eye on as I did when I saw the red book in the play. As he walks along, the orchestra plays a pleasant march that suddenly turns spooky and gives a sense of foreboding when someone else appears on the stage. The clarinet is used quite effectively in this moment, jarringly, to give this spooky effect that the audience needs to be aware of a shift in the play. This is an instant and unfortunately permanent shift, as the devil never leaves the play for too long after first appearing.
With red makeup as a subtle but effective way of showing himself to us, the audience, the devil is alarming both in mere presence, movement and speech as well as his mere presence as the play progresses. Curious in different attire always with a hint of red, the devil strikes up a conversation with Joseph that seems innocent enough, but the devil is counting on this innocent exchange to tempt Joseph. The devil’s perspective is fascinating because although the devil is a man, it is played by a woman. She as an actress is incredibly powerful, and although Joseph tries desperately, the devil triumphs in the end when Joseph walks off following him to parts unknown to the audience, leaving his bride and the life he tried to rebuild but couldn’t. Sadly, he couldn’t free himself from the devil’s grip and defeated, walks off with the devil, leaving all hope far behind.
Visually, the lighting against the devil’s makeup and aggressive movements along the stage make the devil one to be feared. The makeup, the eyes in particular, demonstrate a strong notion of evil in a subtle way. The striking red makeup that changes and becomes more pronounced as the play goes on and as the devil’s personality and movements are more developed, his red cape worn later in the play, a sign of power, and makeup become sinister and something that although one wants to one cannot run from. The lighting hits the red makeup and has a great impact of fear. The devil offers Joseph a book, a little red book, in exchange for Joseph’s fiddle. Joseph didn’t pay much for his fiddle he admits, but plays a calming tune and enjoys his fiddle. His play is repetitive and relaxing, almost contemplative in the style. The fiddle playing is persistent just like the devil’s temptation. He has a content look on his face while he plays. However, he is easily swayed by the devil to exchange the fiddle for the little red book, even though he is a poor reader. The book comes with great promises of vast wealth according to the devil, and Joseph accepts this without much thought but with great regret later. The lighting throughout the story is quite limited to one look. Mostly, it is a single spot line, as if to cast a shadow entirely upon Joseph and have the devil as a background character.
That concept of light on Joseph morphs into a shift in focus when the devil takes over the scene and walks daringly along all borders on the lighted part of the stage into places Joseph cannot go. The devil’s stride in the light and out is alarming and creates an effect of mystery and fear. The audience does not know where the devil is going, and the actual lack of lighting creates an element of uncertainty and fear. In those dark corners of the scene the devil gains immense strength as he frightens both Joseph and the audience. In that way the devil is overwhelming and also quite bossy. It is that bossiness is vital to the devil’s agenda in taking Joseph from his life path. Something unique about the devil is his movement on the stage and how he affects the music when he appears. When the devil has a scene with Joseph and the princess, he is dancing, it’s creepy and alarming as the all red outfit is a spectacle on its own with the movement as a shock. It is then we discover the quality of the devil’s temptation since the devil usually comes to Joseph when he is alone. In a scene the devil comes to Joseph and the princess when they are together, and that is why the devil cannot win in this particular moment. The devil needs Joseph alone to tempt and convince him away from his life path. After all, Joseph seems powerless whenever the devil is around, incapable of fighting him off with words or actions and even appears weak at times. It seems very strange that he cannot fight off the devil because it doesn’t always appear that he is trying with all his might. This great weakness symbolizes the devil’s great strength and how he can manipulate the mind in shocking ways.
How despondent Joseph becomes when he agrees to three days with the devil before returning home, but that turns into three years. Joseph comes back to a world he doesn’t belong to anymore and it’s deeply troubling the painful turn his life takes. The ride in the chariot before Joseph realizes his erroneous choice is transporting the audience because of not only the acting but the great music that accompanies it. Truly, one can almost feel the swirling effect of the chariot racing before Joseph figures out he has been tricked by the devil and lost three years of his life. The same feeling happens with the music when Joseph appears at the castle to wake the princess after a conversation with an army friend encourages him to do so. The music is very unique in that scene when he arrives at the palace. We don’t see a palace but hear this stunning tune. It is regal and elegant in that particular scene. The instruments used, the way the melody progresses has a tune reminiscent of music used to represent kings. That change in music suggests a massive change in the play, but the devil has further plans for Joseph and more temptation to punish him with.
Joseph decides that those who have everything have nothing and those who have nothing actually have everything and follows through in the card game with the devil. In this moment of clarity, it seems Joseph may defeat the devil. First, Joseph builds a vast fortune after losing his fiancé to another man and having his mother believe he is dead. (This is because of the three years Joseph loses.) Using the little red book, Joseph becomes wealthy, but rips up the book in a fit of rage with music in the background that compliments the sound of the paper tearing. The sound is hopelessness and comes across well in this scene. His face and shredding up the book with his hands is so intense, and the music brings up the intensity further by playing off of the sound of the paper. The music gives an added misery to the scene where the book is destroyed. All of this misery was propelled forward by the devil giving him that book. He did accept an offer, so the blame could be put on Joseph for agreeing to the exchange.
The devil is cunning and uses Joseph’s desires and weakness against him. The scene that truly captures the devil in a unique way was when Joseph nearly defeated the devil by losing all his possessions in a game of cards. The concept is Joseph will finally be the one to rouse the suddenly sick princess and he will finally have a wife and the life he’s wanted for so long, but the devil wants to cut in line and rouse the princess himself. The devil comes and goes in the story, and just when one thinks the devil is gone, Joseph is tempted by the devil one more time. After taking the princess on a journey to meet Joseph’s mom, they arrive at the threshold of the village. Everything seems right with the world now until the dancing devil approaches Joseph one final time. The devil approaches Joseph when he is alone and vulnerable, because the princess was behind him in the scene. A one on one interaction with the devil shows the concept strongly as the devil using strength in getting someone, Joseph, alone and exactly where he wants him. The final scene is odd and very heartbreaking, because Joseph walks off with the devil just as it seemed the devil had lost. No shocking music or lighting accompanies the end, just Joseph following the devil, a tragic ending to a hopeful scene with all the things Joseph had wanted.