Devil’s Due

A comic takeoff on Faust, with two devils, one female; and their victim, not a prominent physician but a homemaker, wife of a physician.

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I laughed out loud just reading it.
–David McCaleb, Director

Were you taking notes on my life?
–Bonnie Dechant,
“Grace” in DEVIL’S DUE
Physician’s wife in real life

GAVIN DELANEY Administrator of Children’s Hospital
GRACE DELANEY Gavin’s wife; a housewife
SYLVESTER A devil (male)
SYDNEY A devil (female)
MENNY LY Grace’s neighbor and good friend
MATT DELANEY LUKE DELANEY Teenage sons of Grace and Gavin
LILLIAN SLIDES A realtor/neighbor

The family room/kitchen of the Delaney Family, in Oakland California, 2005. Everything happens in that room.

DEVIL’S DUE takes about two hours to perform, with one intermission.


[This is Sylvester Devil explaining his assignment to offer Grace a deal.]
SYLV: I’m afraid I haven’t a family appellation.  My single term of address is “Sylvester.”
GRACE: Sylvester. Look, I think you’re at the wrong address.
SYLV: [Going to briefcase, rummaging around.]  Look, I’ll show you in print. Honestly, it’s a wonder I can find anything any more.  Forms for this, forms for that. [Taking out piece of paper]  Mrs. Grace Delaney, 1005 Underhills Road.  There it is.
GRACE: For how long?  How long are you supposed to be here?
SYLV: It could be as little as a week!
GRACE: A week!  You mean all the time?  Morning, noon, and night?
SYLV: Don’t worry.  It’s terribly relaxed nowadays; we simply hang about, making the occasional remark–three or four times a day, really.  No long harangues, and we make every effort to be reasonable.  We used to have to follow clients into the bath, but we all said enough is enough, you know, and now as long as we’re under the same roof and in calling distance–
GRACE: Offering me deals.  Maybe driving me crazy.  No, I’m already crazy. Oh God.  Why did they send you here?  What did I ever do that I deserved this?
SYLVESTER: They actually didn’t tell me.
GRACE: I don’t suppose they provide a complaint department.  I mean, I don’t think of myself as perfect, but this is like the police giving out moving violations on harried parents driving kids to soccer, while the drug dealers sell openly on the corner. Why don’t they find someone with serious issues to address.  What about Saddam Hussein?  Slobodan Milosevich.  Jack Abramoff!
SYLVESTER: Of course, the Escort Service has had escorts on all of them for years.   In fact in each case, someone from my alumni group.
GRACE: Your alumni group.  Alumni group?!
SYLV: Oh, yes, we were one of the best classes they’d ever had. Especially created and trained to work with megalomania.  So of course we do tend to service people you’ve heard of, the crème de la crème.
GRACE: “Megalomania”?…now I know they sent you to the wrong place.  I mean you’re dealing with somebody who has had her ego battered for years by the third-lowest position in society, right above “homeless drug addict” and “prison resident”…
SYLV: You’re a prostitute?  That explains–
GRACE: No, I’m not a prostitute; I’m a housewife!
SYLV: Okay, okay.  That’s what I thought.
GRACE: Of course there are some people who think housewifery is a form of prostitution.
SYLV: There must be something special about you, because as far as I know you’re the first housewife ever serviced by our elite group. Typically, housewives are serviced by our “Domestic Service Corps.”
GRACE: Domestic Service Corps.  You mean even in Hell you have to have a certain status to get anything?
SYLV: Especially in Hell.
GRACE: This is too much.  A Mommy Track even for getting into Hell!

During my playwriting career I have made an effort to create interesting parts for women, especially for women over 35. This has made me conscious of the plays that have been considered archetypical for males, including FAUST. One day I starting wondering how a play like this would develop with a more typical “ordinary” female being offered a deal, and I decided to go with it. Menny is Grace’s next door neighbor and buddy, and she gave me a chance to write in an Asian character, but one of the modern young generation. I would also be enthusiastic about casting any of the other characters with non-White actors. There is no reason they wouldn’t fit a play set in Oakland. The boys, for example, could be adopted.

Grace is the mother of two sons still at home, in high school. As I have done with the school plays I have directed, I double-cast the boys. High school kids are not only extremely busy, they are prone to illnesses and family obligations over which they have no control. Although the cast of this play was terrific, hard-working, dependable, and fun to work with, the most fun of all was the group of four boys. They were adorable to watch, full of ideas, and great with each other. They helped each other learn lines, watched rehearsals and made suggestions, and ran errands with enthusiasm. During the run, we assigned them nights to perform but they made several changes to suit their schedules and even came in to watch each other and help in the food and drink concession on their “off” nights. I highly recommend double casting Grace’s two sons!

Shortly after I wrote it, in 1986, this play was chosen in 1986 by the Burgess Theatre in Menlo Park for their Playwrights/Actors Workshop. Each play in the program got a month of workshop. I met for a reading with the actors every week, then had a week to rewrite. The next two meetings, we read and talked about rewrites. The final week, an audience was invited. An unfortunate, though in retrospect interesting thing happened during this period: the actress who played the playwright felt embarrassed to be playing a housewife. But instead of discussing it at our sessions or asking to be replaced, she badmouthed the play to other actors, and one of them told me.

At the time it was extremely frustrating and infuriating, as I myself was a “housewife” and it seemed the height of irony to have the modest intellectual life I was able to manage sabotaged. In fact, I put the play away and it took me nearly a decade to get up the nerve to send it out.
The sad thing is that the earlier theatre had gone to a lot of trouble to do a very good service, and the other actors and the director were very positive and reasonable. The director told me it was “very funny—I laughed out loud reading it.”

When I did get up the nerve to send it, it was taken by the first place I sent it to, Village Theatre in Danville, and that cast seemed completely taken with it, and seemed to find all the funny bits funny. The actress who played Grace there, Bonnie DeChant, said, “Have you been taking notes on my life?” Bonnie was a very professional and fine actress, and her comments certainly erased all my concerns about the part. Thank you, Bonnie!

One reason I am putting this incident into my web site is I want other young women becoming playwrights to understand that there will be women who are perhaps jealous of your role and that it isn’t about your writing. This kind of thing has happened in every profession where women have tried to go.

In case you think that this kind of issue is now in the past, realize that as I write this in 2016, even now only 10% of the plays produced in America are by women. We women playwrights are dealing with some of the behaviors that women doctors, lawyers, bankers, and CEOs dealt with in 1920.