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Doctor Faustus

a Historical Drama
by Christopher Marlowe

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3276

SHOWING : January 03, 2009 - January 25, 2009



This is the story of a man whose insatiable thirst for knowledge leads him to the black arts through which he discovers the sensual world of indulgence, devils and the temptation beyond imagining. And for this world he barters his immortal soul. This "Doctor Faustus" will be unlike any play you have ever seen. Running only ninety minutes, it will be played by two actors without intermission. The audience will be seated on stage and around the Tavern. The play itself, done in ritual form, will be enacted in the center of the space.

Director Jeff Watkins
Mephistophilis, others Laura Cole
Doctor Faustus Maurice Ralston
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Darkness and Memory
by Dedalus
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
In the beginning, there is darkness. Silence. Thirty Seconds. Sixty. Perhaps more. In this region of no senses, how are we to know?

The sound of a heavy door clangs. Chains rattle. Shadows form. An androgynous figure, sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes both, sometimes neither, wanders among the tables, scattered arena-like around a central field of battle. He (or is it she?) lights candles, bringing form from the darkness, shadow from the night. We see in the arena an arcane design, mystic runes portending a pact beyond our wisdom.

And we see the results of that pact. We see a man of knowledge squander all opportunity for goodness. We see that androgynous figure portray all the characters in the man’s life (if, indeed, it is his life). We see an endless, eternal battle, the constant mano-a-daemano that is the man’s eternity. We see the price he pays for his wisdom. And we hear the eternal poetry of the 16th-Century ethos from which the tale came forth.

And in the end, the figure wends her (or is it his?) way among us, dousing all light, returning the arena to the Stygian darkness from whence it came.

And in the end, we hear the clanging of that door, forever closing us off from grace and redemption.

In the end, there is darkness. Silence. Thirty Seconds. Sixty. Perhaps more. In this region of no senses, how are we to know?

Jeff Watkins, Artistic Director of the New American Shakespeare Tavern, is fond of telling us his mission is the words of the Bard, the style of the Elizabethan era, that his role as director takes back seat to the role of the words. Forgetting for moment that that, in itself, is a directorial choice (as are the hundreds of accommodations made to please a contemporary audience), here, his role is central. He is the “Star” (if you will) of this production. And it is an incredibly agile star turn. The first play of the year may, indeed, bring us the best Directing Achievement of the year.

Mr. Watkins has adapted Christopher Marlowe’s multi-character history of the Faustus legend to be performed, in the round, by two actors, Maurice Ralston and Laura Cole. He shows himself a master of “in-the-round” blocking paradigms, of creating a mood, of building suspense, of using twenty-first century staging techniques to tell this sixteenth-century story (despite the program’s insistence we are in the nineteenth century). And, most dramatically, he has moved the story from its historical roots, and placed it in Hell itself. He shows us that eternal re-enactment of a life spent in excess, can carry torment greater than any physical torture a pitiless God can prescribe. This production is far more Watkins than Marlowe, and I loved every minute of it. It is one of those plays that, at the end, the audience sits in silence and darkness for a long interval, before a single brave soul (not I – I have no such courage) breaks the spell with slow applause.

Like all Good Theatre, this production is excellently produced and acted. Laura Cole, especially, deserves credit for her chameleon-like Mephistopheles – her portrayal of the seven deadly sins alone displays a mastery of physicality, emotional accuracy, and mocking characterization. And Maurice Ralston does his expected turn as the doomed Doctor, always ambivalent about the price he is paying, always subconsciously aware that he is actually living his fate, not building its foundation.

Like all Great Theatre, this production sends my mind wandering through a labyrinth of questions and philosophies – Why is memory such torture? Why is emotional torment more piercing than physical torment? Why does darkness and silence fill us with dread? I daresay, none of these questions would be evoked by a straight-forward reading of the original Marlowe text.

And, like all Great Theatre, it lingers for hours, perhaps (we shall see) days. Why does the walk from the theatre to the parking lot now seem like a journey through purgatory, complete with tormentors asking for change? Why does the music on WABE (sacred and profane songs for the New Year) seem especially synchronous to this play? Why do I lie awake for hours (on a work night), pondering eternity, virtue, and darkness? What can I possibly write that will do justice to the power of this production?

In the end, there is darkness. Silence. Thirty Seconds. Sixty. Perhaps more. In this region of no senses, how are we to know?

-- Brad Rudy (

Ninety minutes in hell
by OctoberSundance
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
"Lo, Mephistophilis, for love of thee
Faustus hath cut his arm and with his proper blood
Assures his soul to be great Lucifer’s,
Chief lord and regent of perpetual night." -- Act II, Scene 1

Literal “hells on earth” have been a hot topic in recent news and pop culture. Examples of these modern infernos include Darfur, the Gaza Strip and the New American Shakespeare Tavern . . . well, only until January 25. In the meantime, Doctor Johann Faustus is using the space to conjure demons, tempt royalty and sell his soul to Satan, all before an unabashedly amused audience. (The administrators of my Catholic high school would’ve combusted had they seen me sitting there.)

Christopher Marlowe, widely believed to be an inspiration to the Tavern’s namesake, wrote "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" in the late 16th century for reasons unknown – possibly as a literary middle finger to the Christian faith he allegedly abandoned in favor of atheism, but more likely as a cautionary morality tale for his contemporaries. Interpret it however you’d like, as the play is nothing if not thought-provoking. How far are you willing to go for knowledge and power? Are a few moments of glory worth an eternity of anguish? Is God’s mercy truly endless, or does it come with terms and limits? Such questions are just as important and relevant today, if not more so, as they were during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Director Jeff Watkins brings a unique interpretation of "Faustus" to his theater that still manages to stay true to Marlowe’s ideal. The Tavern stage has been lowered, which allows audience members to sit there while the action unfolds on the main floor, thereby creating a sort of theater-in-the-round out of an already intimate space. Two Atlanta Shakespeare Company regulars – Maurice Ralston as the protagonist and Laura Cole as everyone else – do the work of ten actors in telling the story, with a little assistance from the backstage voices and sound effects of Nicholas Faircloth, Mike Niedzwiecki and Mary Russell, who makes a brief appearance as “the face that launched a thousand ships.”

Casting a woman as the fallen angel Mephistophilis was an unusual decision, but Cole’s powerful delivery and self-assured swagger ensure that it was no mistake; her enactment of the Seven Deadly Sins alone is worth the price of admission, and the action is positively set afire by her chemistry with longtime counterpart Ralston, whose portrayal of the tortured Faustus is undoubtedly just what Marlowe envisioned. It’s sometimes difficult to determine when Cole slides from her main role into a lesser one, unless it was Watkins’ intention to give the impression that Mephistophilis is actually taking on the shapes of the other characters Faustus encounters, in which case the confusion actually makes the play more fun.

The show starts with Cole circling the room, lighting the votive candles that grace each table, while Ralston delivers the opening monologue from the floor – literally. (Sitting toward the back of the stage probably means you won’t get to watch Faustus writhe in agony on the ground, but a balcony seat may cause you to miss Lucifer as he swoops from the ceiling to claim the doctor’s soul.) Big chunks of the play are performed mostly by candlelight, which ups the ante for something truly horrific to happen. And happen it does, despite Watkins’ decision to cut the script’s final scene, where Faustus’ students enter his study and discover his scattered limbs (an exclusion which may disappoint the patrons whose bloodlust wasn’t satiated with all the severed heads in November’s "Henry VI"). Instead, this version ends much as it begins, with Cole now putting out the candles and leaving Faustus (and the audience) in complete darkness, accompanied only by the aftershock of Marlowe’s message and resulting thoughts of morality, mortality and possibly even regret. What could be scarier than that? [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Ralston and Cole Extraordinary
by Ray-and-Pat
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Jeff Watkins’ new adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus is currently playing at the Shakespeare Tavern, and anyone interested in psychological drama, classic theater, or just really good acting needs to get there to see it. Maurice Ralston as Faustus and Laura Cole as Mephistopheles were both extraordinary. Their attention to period detail and characterization were incredible, but their virtuoso performances were even better.
In this version Watkins’ has removed some of the parts of the drama as it has come down in written form to bring it closer to what he perceives as the original intent. The result is to focus on the psychology of Maurice Ralston’s character who will not seek redemption. Is it pride, fear, or demonic power that stops him? Ralston never tells us, but keeps us guessing as he runs the gamut of Faust’s emotions. As for Laura Cole – if she did nothing other than her portrayal of the seven deadly sins, it would be enough for a whole play, but she did much, much more that. Her, or Mephistopheles’ manipulation of Faust was truly terrifying as she turned him inside out and made him work against his own best interest. It was great theater.
Magic At the Marlowe Tavern
by uppermiddlebrow
Monday, January 5, 2009
The Shakespeare Tavern has been magickally transformed into the study of a mad Renaissance German doctor this January. Among the welcome magical differences: you emerge with your backside less cramped than usual because it's a 90-minute show, unlike Shakespeare's super-sized helpings of kultur.

It's also good for Shakespeare fans to be reminded that Marlowe was nothing like the challenge for their favorite dramatist to out-write that Tom Stoppard pretended in the screenplay for 'Shakespeare in Love.' Marlowe's egoist proceeds towards his doom at such a breakneck pace that there's no suspense, no intriguing character development and precious little audience identification with the character. Macbeth Faustus ain't. What's more, the poetry has little that is memorable: "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships" is about the sum of it.

And yet, as a study of world-weary cynicism, Marlowe's doctor holds fascination still. The sheer intellectual mastery of Marlowe in the opening speech, Faustus's lightning review of his philosophical options, is breathtaking: Stoppard and Frayn are the only writers today with the brains to come close. The contemporary daring of the playwright in presenting an atheist who has the better of all the (admittedly brief) arguments also bears recognizing. And, since we're at the Tavern, is there the subtlest hint of a straight line from Faustus to Cabaret, another recent production? Any pattern here of English observation - call it prejudice, but with uncomfortable supporting evidence -of something kinky in the German soul that lacks self-control, humility and humanity?

The Tavern has often done a good job of creating an atmosphere of horror, and does not disappoint with this spooky Dr Faustus.

Entertaining, even chilling, food for thought, if less all-around nourishment than the Tavern's house writer typically provides. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The most important question. by Okely Dokely
Does "no intermission" mean "no apple crisp?"
But of Course! by Dedalus
They are offering it beforehand.

BTW, I heartily concur with all the praise being heaped on this show. It's fun to watch Mr. Watkins flexing his "Conceptual Muscles." See it before that chained-up door slams shut for the last time! (My full review will be in the next "Buzz" (I hope).)
Actually . . . by OctoberSundance
. . . there's no apple crisp for Faustus. At all. Sorry! (But there IS German chocolate cake. Indulge away!)


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