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Doctor Faustus

Doctor Faustus
Review by Tulis McCall
19 June 2015

John Faustus (Chris Noth) has a problem. Nothing is good enough. Aristotle annoys him. Justinian is beneath him. The Bible is filled with hypocrisy. Medicine he has already conquered. The only study that is of interest is the black art of necromancy. Magic. And for power over that Doctor Faustus is willing to trade. In the current production of Doctor Faustus, now at Classic Stage Company, the guy who can make that particular deal happen is Mephistopheles (Zach Grenier). He is a being with a direct line to the Devil. He has looked on the face of God and been demoted along with Lucifer. Because of that, any place he hangs his hat is Hell.

Truth be told I don't recall seeing a production of Faustus, but for some reason I do have a lingering image of a man in great agony and despair as he regards his unenviable fate. In this production, however, great emotion seems entirely absent.

This seems in part due to the script, adapted from Christopher Marlowe by David Bridel and Andrei Belgrader, that feels like "Marlow-Lite". There is no power or oompf. Faustus signs on the dotted line in blood, then wants out. Lucifer appears with a parade of the Seven Deadly Sins that appear not so deadly at all, and Faustus is nearly frothing at the mouth to take them on. There is a bit of audience interaction that is puzzling here.

Lucas Caleb Rooney as Robin and Ken Cheeseman as Dick present us with one hilarious scene that seems half ad-libbed (and very well), but it has little to do with what is going on.

Faustus begs for knowledge so that he may soar over the entire world. He uses it to tease the Pope for no good reason. As time passes Fautus acquires fame and is summoned by the rich and famous for cures and once in a lifetime wishes. Slowly he becomes exhausted by the world tours and disillusioned with what he thought would be his finest years. There are 4 of them that he lives out in a nanno-second or two.

At the end after a quick, and very awkward dalliance with a naked Helen of Troy, Faustus is consumed by the smoke of Hell and sent thither. Sadly, we don't care about his demise because we never got the chance to care about him from the get go. Mr. Noth, although sincere in his efforts, never pries open his own rib cage to make us feel his achey breaky heart. Perhaps he is too accustomed to working on camera and has forgotten that for this to work on stage he must reach out and connect with us. Not the other way around.

Selling your soul is an iconic bargain that most of us, if we are honest, have considered at one time or another. I would sell my soul to have, or to get, or if I only could... Each of us has said it. And this is the play that is supposed to grab us by the scruff of the neck and shake us silly. This is the play that is supposed to pull us back from the edge of a bottomless pit. This is the play that is supposed to make us shout from the rooftops that what we have and what we are is just fine, thank you very much. This production does no such thing.

On the contrary, as portrayed by Grenier, it is Mephistopheles who has a heartbeat. It is Mephistopheles who compels us. The result is that his Hell looks a lot better than any person, place or thing in this production. Beam me up, or as the case may be - down - Scotty. Mephistopheles, not John Faustus, is the m-a-n.

(Tulis McCall)

"Psst, Mephistopheles, are you still around, making deals on behalf of the Devil? Promise to give me back the two hours I spent enduring the Classic Stage Company's misguided production of Christopher Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus,' and maybe we can come to an agreement."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Overall, it's a familiar tale, easy to take. No deadly sin in that."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"The handsome Noth barely registers the enormity of the situation."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for the New York Post

"It doesn't help that Chris Noth, a charismatic presence on TV series like 'Sex and the City,' is too muted as the eminent titular scholar. When he sells his soul to Lucifer, he's meant to be craving knowledge, fame and power; in Noth's account, he might as well be doing it out of ennui."
Diane Snyder for Time Out New York

"This ill-conceived production does no favors to a 16th century work that admittedly is difficult to bring off."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Time Out - Hollywood Reporter

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