FAUST is the epic tale of a man drawn into a deal with the devil, a pact that affects not only the character Faust, but others as well. In this production, FAUST premieres as a musical, one that demands a discerning audience.
The drama itself, written by the great German playwright Goethe, and published in the early 19th century, is often difficult for those accustomed to plays with lots of action and complicated plots. Staged by Theatre By the Bay, at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts in Barrie, Ontario, this FAUST demands an audience that’s looking to enjoy a classical drama, staged with daring, and embellished with rapturous music and near miraculous singing.
As a play, FAUST has a thoughtful, and deliberate pace. At the same time, set to music, it gains momentum, quickened by composer Leslie Arden‘s score that sparkles darkly. In fact, Arden’s music lifts and carries us on a lush wave of sound coming from a live orchestra and the wondrous voices of the actors.
Jeannette Lambermont-Morey‘s directing is always engaging, but it’s a director’s job to assemble the best actor available, and in this, her work is particularly outstanding. It’s this small and dazzling collection of actors that really give this show its resonance.
In the lead, Sean Hauk is a strong Faust, brooding, desperate, and all too ripe for a devil’s picking. Jake Deeth as Mephistopheles is a delicious and puckish rogue, a devil so devious, you want to cheer for evil. Certain actors like Michael Dufays and Alessandro Costantini are so gifted, they could change flat tires on stage and it would appear as a revelation. Christina Gordon is a treat to watch. Like most of the cast, she plays multiple roles, including an old witch, as does the fabulous Kate Etienne. Gab Desmond is given one of the best scenes in which he plays Gretchen’s brother, a soldier who seeks revenge on Faust for the ruin of his sister. And Faust’s love interest, Gretchen, is played with sweet pathos by Priscilla Taylor. In the closing moments of the work, Taylor brilliantly delivers a harrowing tale that easily rivals Ophelia’s mad speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s astonishing that one can even assemble actors of this calibre who also happen to sing like angels.
This classical play at first appears to be what is now a stereotypical plot about a man making a wager with the Satan. But really, this production is more about Faust’s innocent lover, Gretchen. Her trust in Faust’s love moves her, and the whole work, into the realm of high tragedy.
Time and again, the drama displays evil’s collateral damage, that lies all around Faust’s self-indulgence. In this, the drama is really very contemporary. In the character of Faust, we see a man, an intellectual and a narcissist, trying to recapture the innocent pleasure and openness he once felt. Instead, his own self-involvement wrecks the world around him. Faust seeks to retrieve the lost feelings of his youth without ever really connecting emotionally with the people who surrounds him. In a sense, he’s a truly modern character. People exist solely for his purposes, and they nourish his famished soul. But Faust is ultimately trapped in the lonely hell of his own ego. As the story progresses, we see Faust turns out to be a kind of emotional vampire who feeds, but is never truly sated. He’s a human version of what caused Satan’s fall from heaven. Lucifer came to feel he was more beautiful than God, and became the victim of his own corrosive vanity. Separated forever from God’s love, the dark angel’s existence became a devouring of the lives of others.
This production of FAUST has received thoughtful media coverage, including a large review by Kelly Nestruck in the Globe and Mail. And producer Alex Dault was interviewed on radio by veteran announcer Bill Anderson on Classical 96.3 (part of Moses Znaimer’s ZoomerMedia umbrella). It’s really a shame there are such limited number of performances of this extraordinary theatrical offering.
It should be remembered that Theatre by the Bay took great risks in staging such an ambitious project. Those who worked on it created effective set and costumes. However, this type of production craves more opulence. I hope it will be re-staged, and in a grander manner. Barrie, Ontario, isn’t a little town any more, and it can well afford larger budgets for this level of work. And with this kind of talent about, it could easily make culture one of the city’s big drawing cards. Staging shows like FAUST would signal a new maturity in the centre’s development.
All photos by Burke Campbell. Opening night of Faust in Barrie, Ontario.