She who must be obeyed . . .
Equity Showcase (July 10 - August 5)
review by Louis Lopardi . . July 10 & 11, 2002
Marlowe's rich tapestry has served up imagery for generations of creative artists. Genesis has its day with the classic original text this summer, taking as a springboard the 1937 WPA production by Orson Welles. They do not recreate that show, but rather take us backstage to witness a Wellesian figure make his pact with the devil. His rewards are ample - as the array of film posters assure us - and the ability to entertain the masses and conjure spirits certainly comes in handy. (The varied spirits appear in the flickering light of a film projector.)
Despite the omnipresence of Light (Amy K. Browne) and Dark (Frank Rosner), this is more a play of dark and darker, with Faustus and Mephistophilis as twin "black suns of melancholy" circling the abyss of a black hole; and we on the outside get to bask in the cosmic energy which comes pouring out of that hole as it absorbs their spirits. The energy produced by the pitting of Jay Michaels as Faustus with Derek Devareaux as Mephistophilis could fuel a small city.
When Mephistophilis is first conjured he struck an otherworldly, Christ-like attitude reminiscent of funerary sculpture, and held it for the entire scene, - long enough in fact to engender the feeling that this was indeed a being of the ages. (The moment then of breaking the pose could have been truly apocalyptic had it been a bit more carefully placed.) Holding sway over Faustus, Devareaux seemed more like the seductive Vampire Lestat than a traditional Mephisto: suave, unctuous, physically beautiful - using his long hands carefully, nearly as props in themselves - and revealing his true nature with savage snarls fleetingly, when crossed. It was a brilliant and altogether fitting rendition.
Jay Michaels' take on Faustus never strayed far from his paradigm Orson Wells. But he wasn't merely playing Wells as Faust; he had internalized this model and recreated him anew. Body language, eyes, vocal timbre, even the handling of costume parts... all under constant control; this was a tour de force of power-acting.
The entire supporting company was well rounded and alert. Frank Rosner, an actor of great range and depth, supported as Dark and made an astounding transformation into Gluttony. Bill Galarno played several roles, including a take on the Emperor that could only be called "presidential". As SHE (who should be listened to at least, if not obeyed), Mary Elizabeth MiCari made the most of a shallow part with her powerful stage presence. She seemed to have made a decision to tone down that presence to make this divinity more ethereal. Robert F. Saunders played Faustus' friend Wagner with a just right air of diffidence, and appeared later as Envy of course.
Michael Fortunato's eccentric lighting design left things mostly in the dark, apparently to underscore the moodiness of the play. Speaking of masks, the character masks (also Fortunato) were first rate and ingenious. The characterization of Sloth for example was extraordinary and pitiable - helped along by Jeanine Bartel's body language and delivery. But for the ultimate combination of makeup and body language we had Michael D'Antoni's Lucifer- a daemonic creation right out of Hollywood, which needed only more focus. Erik K. Johnston's sparingly used original music was suitably macabre, and Rob DeScherer's sound design was a pastiche of period film music and effects. Materials were well chosen (thank you for not merely aping Westminster Chimes) but their placement and finishing seemed often haphazard. Scenes that demanded either a climactic moment or a graceful segue ended simply in a long and clumsy silence - over and again dampening applause before it could even get started. Whoever made that decision should have a long talk with Mephistophilis.
A well thought out production concept makes this show an excellent guide to Marlowe's theatre of archtypes. The stated setting (1937-1962, New York, California, Hell) reminds us to watch our backs as well as our motives, for as Mephistophilis admits to our backstage Faustus: "This IS Hell. Nor am I out of it."