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A CurtainUp Review

F@ust: Version 3.0
By Les Gutman

In the canon of Western drama, Goethe's Faust (Parts I and II) is notable above almost all other theater masterpieces for its unproducability. It's a massive work, a literal lifetime project, that adopts almost every known style of theater at some point in its procession. The story (of a scholar who trades his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles, in exchange for his earthly wants), told in schizophrenic verse, is, ultimately, a meditation on the destiny of man.

The raw challenge of the work attracted Barcelona's avant garde La Fura dels Baus, which has rendered its interpretation as Faust: Version 3.0. As Faust (Santi Pons) escapes into cyberspace, La Fura rethinks the nature of not only humanity, but of theatrical expression as well.

Faust: Version 3.0 represents a major shift in the direction of La Fura dels Baus's work. Best known for the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, La Fura has generally created theater by engaging audiences (in open spaces, warehouses and other vast locations, but never before in an actual theater, much less one with a procenium) in its signature aesthetic, which blends movement, sound, music of varying origins, unusual machinery and materials, technology and "the direct implication of the spectator in the work." This it calls the Furan language or lenguaje furero.

La Fura's assault on the senses produces a disconcerting work. The staging intermingles actors onstage with videotaped images as well as live feeds duplicating and enlarging stage action onto enormous and varied video screens and monitors. Consequences become immediately apparent as focus zooms to huge video backdrops. Meanwhile, actors rotate within machines, are moved about on scaffolding, fly and hang. An embryonic Faust is reborn as he floats around above the stage in a glass "womb" until a plastic placenta emerges through which blood and fluids pass in advance of the new Faust. Gaining wings, he soars.

The cumulative effect of La Fura's lenguaje is an unmistakable, unforgettable experience. It is unavoidably provocative, and confounding. The intent, putatively, is to underscore the reflexive theme of this cyber-Faust. Everything and everyone, we are told, can seemingly be created and destroyed within (or by) the computer-aided mind of Faust himself. By engaging the audience as it does, La Fura seeks to acheive a sort of poetic transcendence, a "translation" for Goethe's poetry which (the program notes) is generally regarded as untranslatable.

One dramatic resource on which La Fura has not traditionally relied is spoken language. For its new direction, it has associated itself with Pablo Ley, who has supplied spoken text. Unfortunately, the foray into the spoken word fails miserably. Ley's verbal expression is a pretentious mess, infatuated with the seamiest aspects of sexual expression and loaded with anemic nonsense. In attempting to give literal interpretation to La Fura's sensory expression, it undermines it. Based on the writings of La Fura in the playbill and accompanying press materials, it's a problem that appears to be endemic. An example, from the press materials for the show, also contains some self-indulgent explication, for those brave enough to wade through it:

From reason to feeling the Furan essence has been projected through an aesthetic where the human body has been the sentient factor affronting the harsh creations of the human mind. With these elements as a base, the actor has never been the only one center of Furan works, just as the character of Faust is not the center of Faust. In a polyhedric world there is no room for warped interpretations. [Reviewer's note: wow!] Faust is Mephistopheles and Margarita and at the same time Helena and Wagner, state of the art technology and suicide from a clifftop. From this concept of simultaneousness La Fura proposes this F@ust version 3.0 as a step forward in the comprehension of our era, and who better to guide us than the devil in a world saturated with anxious minds?

Pity the unenlightened soul who would be scared away by reading this.

The program's recorded music ranges from Mozart to disco to industrial noise. It's all managed by La Fura's "conductor," a DJ, positioned alone at the front of the orchestra. It's exceptionally effective, as is the sound design supporting it.

Faust: Version 3.0 has a very brief visit in New York. (It's a part of the Lincoln Center Festival.) The sufficiently curious must therefore get there fast. . If the production starts to get to you, you can always do as quite a few people did at the first performance: exploit the New York State Theater's pleasantly wide rows to make an early exit. (There is no intermission.) Should you stay, I'm inclined to suggest doing as many others seemed to do: take off the headphones, endure the intermittent tedium and just take the ride. On that level, it's a pretty remarkable, if not necessarily coherent, experience.

Conceived by Pablo Ley, Alex Ollé, Carlos Padrissa and Magda Puyo with Jaume Plensa, based on Faust Parts I and II by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 
Directed by Magda Puyo (stage), Franc Aleu and Emmanuel Carlier (film)
with Younes Bachir-Lafritz, Carlos Figols, Jorge Flores "Dr. Flo", Miquel Gelabert, Anabel Moreno, Santi Pons, Jordi "Kai" Puig and Sara Rosa 
Scenic Design: Roland Olbeter 
Costume Design: Jaume Plensa 
Lighting Design: Albert Faura
Sound Design: Marc Sardà
Music: Big Tòxic and Alex Martin 
New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, Columbus Avenue at 63rd Street (212) 875 - 5353 
Website address below
A presentation of La Fura dels Baus, Barcelona (website below)
Performed in Spanish with simultaneous English translation via headphones
July 22 - 26, 1998 
Reviewed by Les Gutman July 24, 1998

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