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A CurtainUp Review
Faust 2.0

"Those who fight Nature learn annihilation is Nature's law."

Faust 2.0
(L–R) Paul Kandel, Chris Rehmann, Angelina Impellizzeri, and Benton Greene, with Greg Mehrten on video (Photo: Richard Termine)
The legend of Johann Faust and his bargain with the Devil's agent Mephistopheles is well known, but in creating his epic adaptation of the Faust legend, Goethe only used common lore as a starting point. After covering the more traditional parts of the story in part one of his closet drama, he veered into experimental territory, producing hundreds of pages of dramatic poetry using the Faust character as a unifier for loosely related episodes exploring social ills wrought by the modern era.

This daunting second part is far less frequently read or staged compared to the first, but now a new production at Mabou Mines argues for the text’s continued relevance in a new adaptation by Matthew Maguire and directed by Sharon Ann Fogarty. The ambitious undertaking comes as Mabou Mines settles into its newly renovated home at the East Village's 122 Community Center and approaches its fiftieth anniversary next year.

The result, Faust 2.0, would seem perfectly in line with the experimental company's mission and aesthetic— offering a modern re-imagining of a classic work shaped by multidisciplinary, technologically informed collaborations. But the multimedia components of the production run wild here, resulting in a disjointed presentation that never does full justice to the text or its performers.

Maguire's adaptation itself is thoughtful, reasonably accessible, and at times quite beautifully poetic. Though some of the modern references, such as a reference to The Art of the Deal, are so on-the-nose that they fall flat, his more reserved commentary—covering topics such as climate change or social inequity—comes across with force and pointed urgency. He also demonstrates judiciousness in focusing Goethe's sprawling text.

The live performances (the play has a cast of six in addition to twenty-two performers who appear on video; more on that in a moment) are well directed and well executed. Benton Greene and Paul Kandel have a rich back and forth as Faust and Mephistopheles. Angelina Impellizzeri's supporting role as Helen of Troy is brief but fully realized. Even far more subtle contributions such as Andrea Jones-Sojola's vocals and Chris Rehmann's carefully articulated movements are impactful.

It's when the production attempts to incorporate its technological elements, however, that things start to unravel. The primary obstacle is in integrating the extensive video footage that features more than a dozen additional characters as well as some ensemble groups.

The video design by Jeff Sugg requires precisely synchronized timing in order to ensure smooth exchanges between live performers and filmed ones. That doesn't come to pass, leaving the seams jarringly obvious in awkward pauses or when a filmed performer talks over a cast member. A similar result comes from video subjects appearing uncertain where to look while filming, and from uneven sound quality between videos.

Some of the filmed performers appear less than comfortable on camera, but Karen Kandel proves a notable exception as the personification of Care. Her confrontation with Faust illustrates the full potential of the gambit. Kandel plays Care with a self-assured air that is beguiling yet monstrous. Her delivery is enhanced by the ability to visually distort and multiply her across the eight video monitors incorporated into Jim Clayburgh's set design (which playfully manipulates perspective and pattern). But this is the exception, rather than the rule.

The use of live video feeds similarly proves more distracting than revelatory. While they help locate the work in the digital era—a conversation between Helen and Faust and their son Euphorion (Oliver Medlin) uses live video to feel like a Skype call—the idea of Faust and Mephistopheles chatting on Face Time feels forced.

These various issues with the technological elements could be forgivable enough in isolation. Taken together, though, they have a net weakening effect on the production. There's simply too little justification for why such devices are necessary to balance out all the distractions and interference they pose.

Faust 2.0 is gifted with a thought provoking script and strong acting, but the production simply doesn't showcase them to their fullest potential. Maguire's adaptation operates skillfully in tragic and comic modes, offering satire and sincerity alike. The problem—as much part of his point as it is his obstacle—is that in the modern era, all the digital noise won't let us listen.

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Faust 2.0
Adapted from Goethe by Matthew Maguire
Directed by Sharon Ann Fogarty
Cast:Benton Greene (Faust), Angelina Impellizzeri (Helen of Troy), Andrea Jones-Sojola (Panthalis/Mary), Paul Kandel (Mephistopheles), Oliver Medlin (Euphorion), and Chris Rehmann (Paris/Gravedigger)
Appearing on video: Greg Mehrten (Emperor); Bill Raymond (God/Archbishop); Jim Findlay (General); Terry O'Reilly (Treasurer); Karen Kandel (Care); Black-Eyed Susan (Need); Gloria Miguel (Debt); Ching Valdez-Aran (Want); Rosemary Fine (Mother); Molly Heller (Daughter); Maude Mitchell (Baucis); Arthur French (Philemon); Sam Balzac and Jason Weisinger (Gardeners); Chloe Worthington, Carina Goelbelbecker, Gabrielle Djenné, and Britt Burke (Flower Girls); and Bella Breuer, Ruma Breuer, Julia Da-In Patton, and Zani Jones Mbayise (Girls)
Set and Lighting Design: Jim Clayburgh
Costume Design: Marsha Ginsberg
Video Design: Jeff Sugg
Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Original Music: Eve Beglarian
Choreography: Kristi Spessard
Stage Manager: Gina Solebello
Production Manager: Jørgen Noodt Skjærvold
Technical Director: Matthew Mauer
Hair and Makeup Design: Mara Schiavetti
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with no intermission
Mabou Mines at 122 Community Center, 150 1st Avenue (between East 9th and 10th Streets)
Tickets: $25 ($18 for students and seniors);
From 3/27/2019; opened 4/2/2019; closing 4/14/2019
Performance times: Tuesdays–Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 3/30/2019 performance

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