Saturday, July 28, 10:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 29, 4:45 p.m.
They say: “Join the Devil and his musical guest, Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues, for a late night show you’ll never forget. Mainly because no one gets to leave. A dark experimental blues rock extravaganza all night, every night.”
Rachel’s take: “Guten tag. Velcome to Hell, ja?” That’s Franz (Zachary Michel), Hell’s lederhosened bass player, as he instructs the live studio audience (us) on the permitted ways to respond to the show we’re about to see. In Seamus Sullivan‘s wonderfully creative afterlife, the Devil (Alex Vernon) is a smarmy, sadistic David Letterman, with tonight’s special guests, the damned. Awesome.
Chiefly damned this evening is ultimate cool guy Robert Johnson (JaBen Early), a legendary Delta Blues man who became insanely influential after his death in 1938. The lore is that he had been a mediocre guitar player until he sold his soul to the devil one night to become the best axeman ever. So here we are.
The Hell Satan and Sullivan have set up for Johnson is delightfully intriguing and witty. Johnson banters with the Devil about how prolific he’s been since his death—-Hell being very inspirational for the blues and all. But Satan plays tricks with Johnson’s memory and his fine motor skills, and Johnson never gets to play or finish the last verse. He can only talk about his art with David Letterman. For someone as creative as Johnson, being just on the verge of finishing your song, but never getting it, forever? Yeah. Satan’s good.
What happens next is best left as a surprise, both because of how entertaining and funny it is and because I’m not really sure what actually happened. I asked three astute theater types in the audience how the plot had resolved and none of us knew. But we all had a good time! Director Jason Schlafenstein led the spirited, funny cast in a bluesy talking adventure, deftly handling time jumps and riffing on play tropes and jamming. Rock ‘n’ roll heaven, eat your heart out.
See It If: You like blues or hate David Letterman, or you like being messed with.
Skip It If: You really want to be able to follow the plot.