A mask or horns? Do you want to hide and observe or have everyone see you as the devil you can be? This is the choice presented to each audience member as they enter for Dandelion Theatre and Apothecary Theatre’s presentation of Doctor Faustus. It’s a playful gimmick that indicates to the actors who’s fair game for interaction and is also a thematically clever little nod to the fraught notion of choice.
Will Faustus choose the path to the kingdom of God or sell his soul the Devil? Spoiler alert for Christopher Marlowe’s over four hundred year old play: he chooses earthly power and pleasure over everlasting life. But he’s also very conflicted about it. And we are all tensely aware his soul is on borrowed time.
James Llewellyn Evans and Augusta “Gus” Monet a.k.a. Coyote Ugly have adapted the classic into a tight, intense two-hander between Faustus (Evans) and Mephistophilis (Monet). Though performed in only an hour, this doesn’t play like a highlight reel, but a sharp and resonant distillation. Evans and Monet’s honing of the text into this insightfully condensed form is masterful on its own terms; their precise and passionate performance of it is a riveting spectacle.
Having grown bored by all proper forms of knowledge—from both academia and religion—Faustus arrogantly dismisses their pithy bits of wisdom in snide remarks before being seduced by the allure of necromancy. He conjures Mephistophilis to enable him to seal the pact with Lucifer. What follows is a deeply compelling dance of mutual seduction, revulsion and co-dependancy.
In jodhpurs, riding boots and bowler hat, Monet’s Mephistophilis (costume design by director Max Ackerman and Beth Airton) is a portrait of equestrian elegance; the cane and bright red eyes mark her as sinister, though we can’t really blame her for Faustus’ fate. Despite her deliberate charms, there’s a convincing honesty in her manner. He’s seduced, yes, but fully consenting, a willing rube to her barker.
With decisive economy, Ackerman has crafted a potent and thrilling theatrical experience that fixates on this idea carnival spectacle and showmanship. All movement is purposeful, each texture is evocative, every shift in lighting and sound feels motivated and steeped in meaning. It’s not subtle, every artistic intention is bold and deliberate, yet so perfectly informed as to be transcendent and exhilarating.
Its hard to avoid hyperbole when acknowledging the elements and their collaboration. From jazzy riffs and ominous drones to circus pageantry and a haunting Nina Simone track, Ben Airton’s sound design hits every mark. Exemplified by the abrupt change from calming blue to deep red light as Monet shifts between her Good Angel and Bad Angel personae, the lighting design by Za Hughes, Ackerman and Airton is garish and obvious, but so meticulously executed that it heightens our perceptions and aligns us with Faustus’ experience.
Even the plastic sheeting that hangs in the background feels ominous and purposeful. Mephistophilis lurks behind it to obscure her form and remind us that her ultimate shape is amorphous, only delineated by her specific relationship to Faustus.
It’s a shame that this very special production’s run is so short. It’s such a scintillating piece of theatre, both stylish and emotive, with arresting imagery and electrifying performances. And that brutal finale, yikes!—our imaginations are primed to fill in the gruesome specifics as we recover from a truly stunning theatrical jumpscare.