Church Gossips, Nasty Secrets Turn ‘Tricks’ Into Cliches: Review

TJ Linnard, Desiree Rodriguez and Julie Jesneck star in "Tricks the Devil Taught Me" in New York. The new drama by Tony Georges is running at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York. Photographer: Carol Rosegg/Pete Sanders via Bloomberg

There’s no stage curtain at the Minetta Lane Theatre. What hits you before you’ve even taken your seat is a vision of hell, West Texas style.

Eli Kaplan-Wildmann’s brilliant, economical set for “Tricks the Devil Taught Me” includes a couch upholstered in what appears to be fallow dirt; a jumble of two-by-fours and walls painted in psychedelic hues of desert sunset. Lighting by the excellent Scott Davis adds a golden pink shimmer.

It’s quite an eye-popping frame for playwright Tony Georges. If only his people didn’t babble so much inside this fine set.

They are Betty (Beth Grant, tough and gnarly) and Don (Peter Bradbury, tougher and gnarlier), who have suffered 22 years of marriage after she got pregnant. They are not, sad to say, the Betty and Don of “Mad Men.” Their existential crises owe more to “Ode to Billy Joe” than the men in the gray flannel suits.

All the good gruesome, dark stuff came out in the final minutes and, as far as I could tell, it bore no connection to what came before.

There are two poisonous church ladies and a pudgy loser (played with great panache by Jodie Lynne McClintock) who sings “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and a Latina seductress (bravely essayed by Desiree Rodriguez). Lively Julie Jesneck and TJ Linnard play the young Don and Betty. They are artlessly dressed (by the gifted Asa Benally), like the set, in taste-free Americana.

“Tricks the Devil Taught Me” refers to Mephistopheles’ inclination to turn the tables on people just when everything seems to going right. Since nothing ever goes right for any of these characters, the title is as puzzling as everything else here.

At 18 Minetta Lane. Information: +1-800-982-2787; Rating: (no stars)

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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