Quantum Theatre’s ‘The Devil is a Lie’ brings a new form of audience participation to the stage


Image courtesy of Jason Snyder

Performers on stage during The Devil Is A Lie at the Quantum Theatre.

By Ore Fawole, Staff Writer

Quantum Theatre brings the “choose-your-own-adventure” books of childhood to life on a high-tech stage in their production, “The Devil is a Lie. 

The play follows a retelling of “Faust” laced with a critique of capitalism. George Fast and his wife Margarita invite shareholders, who are the audience, to celebrate their company’s continued growth and success. As a young DJ named Dogg 一 who closely resembles Snoop Dogg 一 begins his job, he quickly realizes he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. The devil has come to claim the prize she is owed, and they won’t leave without it.

“The Devil is a Lie” offers an entirely immersive environment where the audience is an essential function of the show. The characters encourage viewers to use their phones to answer a series of polls that direct the story on a large screen on the stage. The questions vary in significance, with the most severe being serious ethical dilemmas. This fast-paced theatrical feat forces audiences to confront their biases, running through April 30 in the Frick Building in downtown Pittsburgh. 

Jennifer Chang, a UCLA associate professor, wrote the play, which is directed by Pittsburgh native and Carnegie Mellon School of Drama professor Kyle Haden. As her novel playwriting credit, Chang said lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in inspiring “The Devil is a Lie.” 

“It was in the middle of a pandemic, and I’m wondering how we got to be so divided as a country. Why is it so dangerous, you know, for us to be together? Liveness is the most dangerous thing that could happen,” Chang said. “So I was in a state of mourning for both my country and theater.”

The COVID-19 pandemic was also the genesis of the interactive portion of the play. Originally slated as a Zoom production, Chang said she felt inspired to imagine a world where COVID-19 wasn’t a permanent fixture. 

“There was this idea of the play being able to be done on Zoom. And that’s actually how polling started, you could poll on Zoom, right, and pull the participants and still have an interaction that felt live, and felt theatrical,” Chang said. “But then I was encouraged when I was developing the piece to envision that COVID will not last forever.”

The tyrannical company, Voltaire, featured in the play is a nod to the French philosopher Voltaire. One of his most famous quotes, “One must cultivate one’s own garden,” is a theme that Chang said she wove throughout the play. 

“There’s so much voting because we don’t want someone to do something,” Chang said. “But how are we addressing ourselves, our lives, and how we are taking care of our business? That was really something I was very much thinking about.”

Chang spent a lot of time considering how to incorporate Snoop Dogg into the story, saying Snoop’s uplifting spirit was an important factor. 

“I’ve spent lots of hours watching Snoop Dogg and researching Snoop Dogg, and just like, how is he doing it?” Chang said. He doesn’t look like he sold his soul. I know. He’s gone through challenges, as any human being has — how is he doing that and crossing these invisible boundaries that we think exist in the world?”

Lisa Sanaye Dring, an Emmy-nominated actress who portrays the character Lucy in the play, is no stranger to this interactive format. Her performance starts long before the show begins. As she ushers in guests while acting as her character, she leads this play in a manner that she is not used to. 

“My phenotype isn’t given roles like this often, and expressing that sort of energy on stage is different than what our social masks are asked to be,” Chang said. “So in that way, I find it really, really satisfying, and empowering, and scary.”

Haden said the play has many rap influences. The title, “The Devil is a Lie,” is inspired by rapper Rick Ross. In a song that bears the same title, Ross raps, “The devil is a lie, bitch I’m the truth. The devil is a lie, bitch I’m the proof.”

“He both denies the Devil exists and sets himself up as the opposite,” Haden said. “You don’t have to be familiar with Christianity to understand Mr. Ross’s point 一 he’s going to work against the defined system and find a different path to make his way in the world.”

Haden said traditional theater etiquette conditions audiences to always power their phones off during a show, but here, their phone was essential to the experience. 

“It was a risk that we knew we were taking. Because we know how addictive these things are, and deciding that we’re going to have them out the whole time, we knew that that was a possibility,” Haden said. “The first night we had audiences here, the woman next to me was texting the entire show.”

Haden said the whole cast and crew are empowered by this play’s experimental nature. Audiences can enjoy an unprecedented format that is led by a diverse set of artists.

“That’s something a lot of us who have grown up in marginalized cultures in America can relate to,” Haden said. “We’re trying to make a play in a bit of a different way.”