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Defending the devil

The most important trial in history is coming to downtown Tampa. Jobsite Theater’s The History of the Devil is a court case that examines the character of none other than Satan himself.

Written by Clive Barker — author, film director and comic book creator — the play takes place primarily in a courtroom at the devil’s parole hearing. The audience sits as the would-be jury as the play travels back in time to witness Satan’s acts throughout history. After 5,000 years of exile from heaven, the ruler of darkness believes he has done his time and deserves a second chance.

With its religious undertones, the play sparked controversy and accusations of blasphemy. According to Barker’s official Web site,, the show was banned in England by one of its venues. Ironically, the banning helped the show gain popularity.

“(The banning) brought it great notoriety and sold the show out wherever it played,” said Barker in a 1998 interview.

In 1999, Tampa-based theater company Jobsite Theater turned Barker’s play into a local hit. It was the company’s third production. Four of the actors from Jobsite’s first performance of the play also star in this year’s 10th-anniversary production.

Shawn Paonessa, who played the judge in the original production, described the audience of the first two productions as pretty small, mostly consisting of family and friends of the cast. However, on the third night the company saw an incredible turnout.

“When the director told us that the line was going all the way down the walkway and around the corner, we knew we had something,” Paonessa said. “I remember in the final weekend I came out on stage, and we had even added chairs but there were still people standing in the back of the room — it was overwhelming.”

The 34-year-old actor said he thinks the play’s success was due to a combination of the recognition of Barker and the interesting concept of the play.

Jobsite Theater is known for its darker, scarier plays around Halloween. David Jenkins, artistic director for the group, said the success of the first production of Devil started an October tradition.

“This show was the first show we did right around Halloween in our first season. It was such a success it sort of became our holiday,” he said. “A lot of theaters will do a Christmas show. We always try to do a Halloween show.”

The company decided to put Devil back on the docket in celebration of its 10th season. The show runs almost three hours, and Jenkins compared the taxing work of the cast and crew to running a marathon.

“The show consists of 13 actors, 36 characters and 5,000 years,” he said.

As witnesses come forth, the audience does not get a typical testimony, but rather a flashback. The courtroom fades away as witnesses recount the Devil’s past. Appearances in the trial range from the epic Italian poet Dante to Jesus Christ.

Before Barker was deemed “the future of horror” by Stephen King, he was a playwright. He wrote The History of the Devil in 1980, but did not originally intend for it to be published, according to Jobsite’s Web site. In 1995, the play was published in a collection called Incarnations.

While The History of the Devil can be considered a dark comedy, the play brings up serious questions about the concept of the devil: Is he truly evil, or merely mankind’s scapegoat? The mood and balanced representation of both the prosecution and defense allows for some sympathy toward the devil.

Showtimes for The History of the Devil are 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. on Sundays until Nov. 16 at TBPAC’s Shimberg Playhouse. Ticket prices start at $24.50.