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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Faustus

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 2:20 PM

click to enlarge Evan Spigelman stars at Mephistopheles. - ERIN ROUSSEL
  • Evan Spigelman stars at Mephistopheles.

Robed figures whisper “He had it coming,” as chamber music blares. A demon, dressed like a symphony conductor, uncloaks them, and they scatter in hurried, frantic movements to the shadows. The demon, Mephistopheles, later waits in the corner as John Faustus calls forth these figures to help him sell his soul to Lucifer in Faustus, produced by Lux et Umbra at the Old Marquer Theatre.

Written by Christopher Marlowe, the play (fully titled The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus) is based on the German legend of a scholar who — via necromancy and blood oaths — bargains with the devil for great knowledge. John Faustus (Matt Standley) wants to know the world’s secrets — and he isn’t certain if Hell exists — so he conjures the demon Mephistopheles (Evan Spigelman). After Faustus cuts his wrist and signs Lucifer’s contract for his soul, the cunning and deceptive Mephistopheles must do his bidding for 24 years.

Standley plays the power-hungry Faustus with a mix of wide-eyed wonder and fatalism. At first he is careless in protecting his soul. If there is no Hell, what does he need to worry about? But as the remaining number of years using Mesistopheles’ power dwindles, he becomes concerned. Spigelman is mesmerizing. He pushes his body — screeching like a dying bird and contorting his face in weird, painful ways. Mesistopheles is reluctant to help Faustus, but he is bound to do whatever the arrogant doctor says. Spigelman is frightening and electric; his movement and voice modulations make him seem possessed.

click to enlarge Matt Standley stars as Doctor Faustus. - ERIN ROUSSEL
  • Matt Standley stars as Doctor Faustus.

Directed by Jon Greene, the show is dark, but there also are humorous moments, such as when Mephistopheles gets phone calls from Lucifer and company, who sound like they came straight from a B movie about aliens. Shawn Ramagos’ set looks like a medieval dungeon with blood splattered on the stone walls and hooks hanging from the ceiling. This dark aesthetic sets the mood and adds to the suspense. Faustus is a morality tale, but this production amplifies macabre elements to create unease, and it gets gruesome — Mephistopheles saws off an enemy’s horns, which had been sprouted by magic.

An “ensemble of the damned” (Hebert Benjamin, Brian Coogan, Hannah Culwell, Kristen Gremillion and Richard Mayer) dresses like skeletons with white ribs and dark eye makeup. They follow rhythmic, dancelike movement and contort their bodies in entrancing ways, especially Benjamin. Throughout the show, each damned figure takes on different characters — posing as noblemen or one of the seven deadly sins. They frequently act in unison and and the show uses physicality and movement to tell the story.

This well-directed and excellently performed production is both scary and thought-provoking. 

Oct. 29-31
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Old Marquer Theatre, 2400 St. Claude Ave. 
Tickets $20, $10 students

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