THE HISTORY OF THE DEVIL, Or scenes from a pretended life, Next Theatre Company. Satan is a fascinating creature, at once vain and pitiable, cruel and tortured, rebellious and wounded. At least that’s the Devil who emerges in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The Devil in Next Theatre’s production of Clive Barker’s The History of the Devil, or Scenes From a Pretended Life is considerably less complex. He dresses nice, sure, in an elegant pinstripe suit and black bowler. But as written by Barker, played by Lusia Strus, and directed by Steve Pickering, this Lucifer lacks that ineffable demonic charm, that seductive Mick Jagger-ish charisma, that hellish je ne sais quoi that makes him such a potent and terrifying presence in the history of Christianity.

Barker–who’s usually a much more resourceful writer–depends almost entirely on Old Nick’s reputation to drive this rather flaccid and undramatic narrative about a bogus trial Satan whips up to talk himself back into heaven. All the prosecuting attorneys, the witnesses from Lucifer’s past, and even his demonic sidekicks are far flatter and more stereotypical than the wonderfully cruel beings who inhabit Barker’s finely written, remarkably cliche-free horror stories and films. And Pickering’s hysterical direction only makes them seem more stereotypical. In this show the actors don’t just chew the scenery, they swallow and take another big bite. Funny thing is, we’re the ones stuck with heartburn.

–Jack Helbig