Review Roundup: DOCTOR FAUSTUS, Starring Chris Noth, Opens at Classic Stage

Classic Stage Company presents DOCTOR FAUSTUS, adapted by David Bridel and Andrei Belgrader from the play by Christopher Marlowe, starring Chris Noth ("Law & Order," "Sex and the City," "The Good Wife"), and directed by Andrei Belgrader (CSC's production of The Cherry Orchard). The show opens tonight, June 18 at CSC (136 East 13th Street).

Joining Noth in the cast are Tony Award nominee and "The Good Wife" co-star Zach Grenier as Mephistopheles, Jeffrey Binder, Ken Cheeseman, Carmen M. Herlihy, Walker Jones, Marina Lazzaretto, Geoffrey Owens and Lucas Caleb Rooney.

In DOCTOR FAUSTUS, a pact with the devil brings boundless knowledge and endless gratification. There's just one little catch... Marlowe's ever-irreverent DOCTOR FAUSTUS remains as ahead of its time today as it was when it first scandalized audiences some four hundred years ago.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is performed so rarely on our shores it's a shame that the current revival by the Classic Stage Company is such an ill-conceived mess. Starring a miscast Chris Noth in the title role, this rendition directed by Andrei Belgrader strains so hard to emphasize the Elizabethan play's farcical aspects that it totally extinguishes its emotional resonance...There's also plenty of buffoonery, mainly provided by a pair of clowns (Lucas Caleb Rooney, Ken Cheeseman) who make Shakespeare's fools seem sophisticated by comparison...Noth tries hard, but his vocally underpowered performance fails to do justice to the blank verse, and he's never quite able to shake off his contemporary demeanor. On the other hand, wonderfully creepy, oozing venality in seductively understated fashion...By the time the tedious, seemingly endless proceedings reach their conclusion, viewers may well be wondering if they've been consigned to hell themselves.

Linda Winer, Newsday: If you were expecting a heavy slog through Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe's soul-scorching drama, think again...Noth brings an alternately manic and laid-back arrogance to Faustus...Zach Grenier's Mephistopheles evinces a cunning that should be transparent. Idiots know better than to trust him. Blinded by hubris, Faustus sees only the lure of temporarily unbridled power...We imagine Marlowe spinning in his grave over the shtick that makes this reincarnation laugh-out-loud accessible to 21st century audiences. Yet it remains faithful to Marlowe's literal intention...In any case, Jeffrey Binder -- decked out like Tom Wolfe -- is deceptively debonair as Lucifer, while Walker Jones as Faustus' servant is both haunting narrator and pragmatic practitioner of banal magic...As for Mr. Big (spoiler, really?), he gets what he bargained for.

Diane Snyder, Time Out NY: Andrei Belgrader's last collaboration with Classic Stage Company, Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, triumphed by acutely blending laughs and pain. But they don't coexist as harmoniously in the artful director's intimate, pared-down production of Christopher Marlowe's morality play Doctor Faustus. It doesn't help that Chris Noth, a charismatic presence on TV series like Sex and the City, is too muted as the eminent titular scholar. When he sells his soul to Lucifer, he's meant to be craving knowledge, fame and power; in Noth's account, he might as well be doing it out of ennui...Faustus's inner turmoil doesn't resonate with as much force as the buffoonery of yokels Robin and Dick (Lucas Caleb Rooney and Ken Cheeseman) or the wonderfully weary malevolence of devil Mephistopheles (Zach Grenier).

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Noth, a veteran theater actor, is at home onstage. He's got a sly twinkle in his eye that works well. But more vocal authority and volume could go a long way. At times he's overshadowed and barely audible. That's easy, since the devilish middleman, Mephistopheles, is played by the ace Zach Grenier...He brings zesty relish to every line. Director Andrei Belgrader, who adapted Christopher Marlowe's play with David Bridel, plays the show for all its loosey-goosiness. He pumps in dry ice, which works, and pipes in disembodied voices, which sound goofy. He has clowns break the fourth wall and interact with the audience. Puppetry lends a laugh. The play's abrupt ending isn't graceful; the story basically falls off a cliff. Overall, it's a familiar tale, easy to take. No deadly sin in that.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: What's Chris Noth thinking in "Doctor Faustus"? Hard to tell. As the ambitious magician of Christopher Marlowe's 16th-century play -- who trades his soul to Lucifer in exchange for absolute power -- the handsome Noth barely registers the enormity of the situation...At least Mephistopheles holds up his end of the theatrical bargain, played as he is by the expert Zach he nicely underplays Mephistopheles as a deceptively meek bureaucrat. That's the only subtle aspect in Classic Stage Company's production of Marlowe's bizarre hybrid of metaphysics and buffoonery. Using elements from both versions of the play, this new adaptation by David Bridel and director Andrei Belgrader swerves between thoughtful monologues and comedy so broad that you could run a horse-drawn cart through it.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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