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174

Maggie Diaz Bofill and Cry Havoc have submitted two plays to this year’s Fringe: “Drawn and Quartered,” with two actors, at C Cubed; and “Devil of Choice,” with three and a violinist, at Assembly Square. I was fortunate to order the starter before the main, in that “Devil of Choice” feels like the meatier of the two. I had admired “Drawn and Quartered,” though I had still queried its realism. I am more at peace with “Devil of Choice,” which, despite regaling us with so scuffed a scenario as the classic marital affair, has an oddity or a uniqueness to it that comes to seem greatly lifelike.

Sal (Justin Reinsilber) poses priapically at the centre of this play, with two supplementary women balanced loosely on either side of him. To them, he is a big man – to us, he is possibly just a little boy. He will be familiar from countless American campus novels – the lecturer who lives for the immediate adulation like a circus juggler, and who is as incongruously potent as a pacing wild animal within the bureaucratic confines of academia. On the left is Pepper (Paula Pizzi), the morally supportive little “bird” of a wife. On the right is Delia (Bofill), the inevitable office meat, who is soon hanging on the telephone.

This story comes in a plastic case. We are lectured (and indeed the venue is actually a lecture hall when in civilian life) about Faust and Mephistopheles and the grandeur of the big man’s grapple with sin. Satan might be given an important guest status in this play, but we see, I think, that he is here just to big Sal up and to make him look more notorious and powerful.

Such imagery does not in fact particularly function. Sal never really seems conscious of what is going on around him. He absent-mindedly recruits Delia as a lover and when his deceit is exploded, he appears to view himself as a passive victim of circumstances. The Faust material is only relevant in light of the spin that Sal puts on it. He breezily explains that sin is potentially okay with God because it is active and dynamic. Retrospectively, this not only sounds self-justifying but dangerously like the play’s final word.

Michael (Dominic Farrow), the awful male from “Drawn and Quartered,” had nonetheless possessed a charisma that had opened up a vortex of mystery in the play. Sal is not so much of a masterpiece, but this makes his mini harem correspondingly more interesting and sympathetic. Pepper is very likeable and we can probably picture her empowerment if she ever, one day, flies the nest. Delia is a largely identical quantity, a woman who would be resourceful had she not pegged her self-esteem to Sal’s approval. In a brilliant scene of dismayed crisp-munching, she rues how she comes second even when she is scheduled to be in the ascendancy. At one point Sal insinuates, with astonishing casual brutality, that he is only sleeping with Delia because he would like her to be friends with his wife. It would be no doubt therapeutically beneficial for these ladies if they together calmly murdered him.

The three on-stage performances are equally vivid and intricate. In the wings, the violinist Melisa McGregor ties her ribbons in striking, elaborate bows all over the drama.