BWW Reviews: Independent Shakespeare Co.'s DOCTOR FAUSTUS Examines the Road to Hell
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but for Dr. Faustus (Adam Mondschein) the shortcut forged by a writ in blood expedites a journey that has nothing to do with being good. Frustrated in his search for knowledge and arrogant in his desires, he makes a deal with the Devil and in exchange for his soul, is granted twenty-five years with Lucifer's demon Mephistopheles (Suzan Crowley) by his side, serving him in any way he chooses.
Of course, that other cautionary phrase -- be careful what you wish for -- is one Faustus would have done well to remember. But this is not the story of a man with a happy ending. It's a reminder that we are responsible for what we do and say, and that the decisions we make have consequences. Boy, do they ever.
This tale by Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of William Shakespeare's who also celebrates his 450th birthday this year, comes to the ISC Studio at an especially appropriate time of year. As Halloween approaches and the Day of the Dead draws near, it is said that the veil between worlds is at its thinnest and the spirits are close at hand. Days become shorter and night falls quicker lending an eeriness to it that only enhances the moral of the story.
Director Melissa Chalsma is credited with the adaptation, which borrows from two different published versions of play, and includes plenty of the company's signature humor, this time with a darker twist. Her work with Mondschein, in his first production with ISC, is exemplary. With her guidance he delivers an intensely driven Faustus who consumes his world with single-minded fury even as his passions seek to destroy him. He has a riveting command of the verse and a tortured energy that fills the room, a distinct contrast to Crowley's Mephistopheles, who is content to observe him with wry amusement for much of the play.
Veteran company actor André Martin gives us two characters that drive the situational comedy home. His egotistical Pope, tormented by an invisible Faustus, and Gluttony, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, showcase his ability to improvise on the spot and he does it as easily as changing his hat.
The other ensemble members also take on multiple roles with Ashley Nguyen bringing sexiness to the dark world; Matt Callahan becoming the clown; Sam Breen portraying goodness disregarded; and Lexie Helgerson tapping into a calm contempt. All of them work together to create the imposing world that closes in on Faustus and though at times their vocal delivery and physical actions could be cleaner, they are nonetheless effective in ramping up the juice as Faustus's time begins to run out. Still, it is their simpler moments, such as when they become the voices in his head, or watch him perched from an unusual vantage point, that make a bigger impact than wilder scenes where their chaotic movements are less focused.
The production design, also credited to Chalsma, combines black & white with the earth tones of a graveyard to heighten the drama, duly accented by Boscoe Flannagan's murky lighting. Mondschein's stylized makeup is another terrific, even spooky, visual. His kohl-rimmed black eyes and sharply accented features give the character a haunted, hunted look, as if he is about to crack under the weight of too many sleepless nights or too many hours in pursuit of the dark arts. It offers a wealth of information about the man before he even says a word.
An ISC Studio production always rides the edge. If you only know the company from its large scale summer Shakespeare productions in Griffith Park, this is the time to experience how they dissect a story in a more intimate setting. DOCTOR FAUSTUS is an exploration of one dark night of the soul that lasts 25 years before crashing to a sobering halt. It's a devilish way to spend the cooler LA nights.
Oct. 23 - Nov. 23, 2014
Independent Shakespeare Co.
Independent Studio, 3191 Casitas Ave., #168 (between Fletcher Drive and Glendale Blvd.) at the Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Plenty of free parking.
Tickets are $20 - Students $15, (Thursdays and Fridays);
$25 - Students $20, (Saturdays and Sundays).
Tickets: (818) 710-6306 or www.iscla.org
There will be two free performances of DOCTOR FAUSTUS at Westfield Century City on Nov. 1 & 2 sponsored by Westfield. For more information visit www.iscla.org/westfield.