BWW Reviews: Classical Theatre Company's DOCTOR FAUSTUS is Chillingly Mesmerizing
Boldly re-envisioning classical drama is the mission of Classical Theatre Company, and their production of DOCTOR FAUSTUS, written by Christopher Marlowe and adapted by Timothy N. Evers, is theatrical magic that Houston audiences can savor. The company is breathing vibrant life into the playwright's fascinating tale about the dangers of hubris and presenting Houston's first-ever professional premiere of the 420-year-old work.
Most likely inspired by the 1592 English translation of the popular Faust legend published in The English Faust Book, Christopher Marlowe's play tells the story of a young scholar at Wittenberg, named Faustus, who feels he has completely learned everything there is to know about the subjects he has studied. Casting aside his books on medicine, law, and divinity, he discovers a text on necromancy. He is instantly intrigued by this new subject and studies it profusely. Reciting an incantation he summons (or so he thinks) Mephistopheles, a demon from Hell. He makes a bargain with the devil, signing his soul over to Satan so he can take Mephistopheles on as his personal servant for 24 years.
Direction by Philip Hays splendidly mixes together new and old styles of theatrical trickery to seamlessly create a show where nothing is as it first appears. Whether operating puppets, dawning masks, or standing in the center of swirling projections, his cast makes every choice feel natural within the world created on the stage. No production element feels out of place and keeps the plot progressing forward all while fascinating the audience. Likewise, Philip Hays has meticulously and excellently cast the play with four skilled actors that ensure the audience hangs on every word, action, and reaction.
Playing the titular Faustus with incandescent charisma, Adam Gibbs creates a delightfully conceited character that simply cannot get enough of himself or his intelligence. From the first line he delivers, Adam Gibbs squarely showcases Faustus' greatest flaw: his pride. Over the course of the two acts, he deftly convinces the audience that it is Faustus' hubristic characteristics that cause him to be blind to his own salvation and eventually lose everything in the play's final moments. Moreover, he skillfully reminds the audience that unlike the other tragic heroes of Tudor era dramas, Faustus is not of noble birth. He is a common yet educated man with complicated views concerning religion who, in seemingly knowing everything, fails to ever truly know his own self. Therefore, he squanders the gifts of knowledge and power granted to him and dies a lamentable death after a wasted life.
James Belcher, a Houston favorite on the Alley Theatre's stages, brings dark yet humorous life to Mephistopheles. Alternating between highly animated movements and morose, wraith like wanderings, James Belcher's Mephistopheles is colorful, fascinating, and eerily haunting. In every line delivered, every step taken, and every gesture, the audience sees the calculated machinations of the character who appears not because Faustus has summoned him but because Faustus has forsworn the holy scriptures of the Christian faith. To call James Belcher's characterization of the ominous and fear-inducing Mephistopheles sly, cunning and manipulative seems crass and like a disservice to his sterling performance; however, better words capable of stronger clarity currently escape me.
Playing a chorus of many, both Dain Geist and Joanna Hubbard are excellent in performance. Each masterfully jumps in and out of various roles with impressive and dynamic precision. Standout characterizations include Dain Geist's entirely creepy Bad Angel, complete with a sunken, low and weaving physicality, subtle smirk, and unnerving voice, and Joanna Hubbard's immaculately and distinctively voiced and personified Seven Deadly Sins.