An Innovative Faustus

April 19, 2011
We all know some version of Faustus: a man makes a deal with the devil in exchange for unlimited power, resources, and pleasure. Yet the moment one entered the theater for into the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of Faustus, which played at the Loeb Mainstage from April 1 through 9, it was clear that this was something entirely different. The production creatively uses Christopher Marlowe’s sixteenth century text as a jumping off point to explore themes of lost love, power, imagination and creation.
Faustus should be noted above all for its inspired direction. Ilinca Radulian ‘11 infused the archaic text with new life, a feeling of modernity, and an exciting sense of playfulness that one might not expect in such a symbolic and often inaccessible piece of classical drama. Through an exciting elemental staging, she created a visceral world that was nearly impossible to stop watching. The casting choices were also compelling, down to the miscellaneous peripheral characters: for these Radulian used an ensemble of three mysterious she-devils who wove in and out of the dramatic intrigue (played by Darcy Donelan ’14, Vanessa Koo, ’12, and Kelly Perron ‘11), who were good for both comic interlude and plot advancement.

Faustus himself was reinterpreted as a younger man struggling to regain a lost love, and Mephistopheles as an incarnation of his yearning for this long gone beloved. As the tormented Faustus, Nasir Husain ‘12 deftly commanded the vast and often intimidating Loeb Mainstage space with a strong vocal presence. He certainly possessed the power and intensity to pull off some of Marlowe’s most challenging sections of text. However, in this production, Marlowe’s words, though still poignant, were of secondary concern. The actors even occasionally strayed from the original text: As Faustus became more and more obsessed with his created vision of Mephistopheles (portrayed by the captivating Isabel Carey ‘12), Radulian wove in sections of seemingly improvised modern dialogue. This technique created a sense of intimacy that was occasionally lost in the classical verse.

But again, this interpretation of Faustus was not about the words. It was a visual masterpiece daringly executed by Radulian and her inspired designers and actors. This wasn’t the type of show where one could sit in the dark and watch the events unfold on stage. This was not just a play, but an experience. The auditorium was silent as Faustus toiled away center stage. Meanwhile, Mephistopheles sat frozen in the front row as audience members took their seats just behind her. The final impassioned struggle between the two took place just inches from the audience members, who were no doubt overwhelmed. Faustus didn’t try to hide the fact that it is a piece of theater, nor did it try to create a completely naturalistic representation of real-life behavior on stage—the characters almost always interacted in a stylized, dance like manner, which fit the play’s vivid elemental staging.

The use of bright blue, orange, and white paint throughout the show was a provocative choice that made for many stunning stage pictures. By the end of the show, Faustus and Mephistopheles were literally drenched in paint.  This took on a wide and occasionally confusing variety of different meanings–blood, creation, connection. But regardless of what it meant, it certainly had a hypnotizing effect on stage. This effect was enhanced by vivid lighting designed by Matt Warner ‘13. Perhaps the most engaging moment of the show occurred in a sequence completely free of dialogue. Simple images of Faustus’s spiral of self-destruction following Mephistopheles’s desertion were punctuated by sharp lighting choices, giving the sequence the jarring effect of a montage.

To play all the other miscellaneous roles, Faustus employed an ensemble of three mysterious she-devils who wove in and out of the dramatic intrigue, played by Darcy Donelan ’14, Vanessa Koo, ’12, and Kelly Perron ‘11, who were good for both comic interlude and plot advancement.

Faustus was notable for its cohesive, imaginative, and striking artistic vision. It was a visual and physical masterpiece and was backed up by strong performances. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the daring re-appropriation of this classic text, he would be hard-pressed to take his eyes off the stunning visual landscape and the compelling tragedy that left all audience members emotionally overwhelmed.

The Harvard Art Review Theatre Board

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