Sunday, July 10, 2005

Faust. Us. (version 2.0)

Stark Raving Theatre / Theatre Vertigo
July 9, 2005; closes August 6, 2005

Portland playwright Joseph Fisher gave hell of a fun ride. Patrick Wohlmut’s solid straight-man anchored cast of familiar faces all doing familiar shtick, but this time in a vehicle where it all worked, creating panoramic pandemonium in dramatic contrast to Faust’s stillness. SRT mayhem, but with an edge of Vertigo.

18 comments:

Follow Spot said...

Yes, I deleted comments that seemd to be straying too far off-topic. One visitor commented constructively that Starbird looks good in tight pants; kudos to the costume designer who helped him create a devilishly tempting character. But now let's move on and talk about the rest of the show, please.

Anonymous said...

pants.

Anonymous said...

I saw the show on July 15 and enjoyed it very much. It's not perfect; the second act is much weaker than the first, but the whole show is quite enjoyable.

I thought the older woman who played the Archangel Michael gave an excellent performance, but I think the playwright and director would have been braver and fairer to have written and cast the part to be as sexy as Mephistopheles and Becky Sue.

Jeff said...

Anon:

Do you mean the same age and sexier, or recast younger?

-j

Anonymous said...

PANTS!

Anonymous said...

It would have been better to have the one virtuous angel not cast as a nurturing grandmother because in this case it makes an unconscious statement that to be virtuous and wise, one has to be old and lacking sex appeal.

Patrick said...

I, for one, hear your comment about ageism; perception of age is an important factor to consider in a production, as is perception of race, gender, and class (have I missed anything? Let me know). But I have to disagree with you. I don't see Michael as nurturing. If anything, she's a cranky old battle axe on the side of Heaven, which in the play is dying a slow but sure death. Virtuous and wise? Certainly. Nice? Nurturing? Not at all. She's a warrior through and through, who is willing to broker a desperate deal to ensure a chance of survival for the side of God and the Angels. A warrior whose time is almost up.

That's the crux: her way of life, of religion, of everything, is dying. As one of the mainstays of her realm, one of The Lord's chief lieutenants, it makes sense that she should reflect the fate of her home and of what she represents. It benefits the production to show her in a similar state as heaven: white, glistening, statuesque, and utterly unapproachable; and definitely getting on in years. In this case, the lack of sexiness has, I think, nothing to do with bravery or lack of it, and everything to do with interpretation of the text.

If I may ask a completely non-rhetorical question: how do you think a 'sexier' Michael might benefit the play, both in terms of the script and the production? I'm honestly curious.

Anonymous said...

Bullocks.

PANTS!!!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a response to Patrick's comments from the original poster discussing Michael's age. I agree with the interpretation that Heaven (and therefore Heaven's representative) are seen in this play as older than both the world of Hell and the world of the Fairies, and in that sense it was perfectly reasonable to cast an age gap between those performers. Beyond that, I also do not see nurturing in the part, either in how it is written or how it was played. Anyone waving a sword at me and demanding I repent is not a nurturing grandmother in my book.

Anonymous said...

Ditto

Anonymous said...

I think I posted the original comment about the casting of Michael, so I'll try to respond.

Evil is more attractive than good. Milton probably didn't intend his Satan to seem so damn cool, but he does anyway. One of the baptismal promises one makes in the Catholic Church is to reject "the glamour of evil." Only Dante and others artits of his time really succeeds in making demons seem vile.

In FAUST.US. the forces "opposed" to the Judeo-Christian God were embodied by two young, sexy, attractive people. That fact, plus the presentation of the traditional "goodness" which Michael was made to represent as a guilt-ridden, repressive, shame-based morality, made her "case" much weaker from the outset. I thought the actress played what she was given well. I didn't like the lines Fisher gave her.

Plenty of people out there on Michael's side are, believe it or not, happy, kind, liberal, pleasant people (Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, gunned down while saying mass by right wing soldiers comes to mind). Why did this Michael have to seem like she'd just left her Focus on the Family meeting?

I'd have been more impressed that Fisher was giving EVERY side in his play a fair hearing if the spokesperson for every side were presented (and costumed! Why should Mephistopheles get a cool creative makeover and the angels be stuck looking like some third grade Christmas pageant?) equally attractively.

Age isn't the issue, by the way. I'd have been perfectly happy with and older, in-shape Michael.

Patrick said...

I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but it sounds to me like your beef wasn't really regarding Michael's sexiness or lack of it. Rather, it was that you saw her as being drawn as a much less complex figure than others in the play. I see your point that the relative attractiveness of Mephistophiles and Becky Sue didn't help. But in view of your other comments, that concern seems to take a back seat. Am I right? Wrong? Please clarify this point for me.

Also: Christian ideals regarding sexuality tend to walk on the side of Devotion and Fidelity. How might you have staged the show with these things in mind? Surely, Michael would not be served, or serve the play best, by exhibiting a wanton sexuality, or perhaps not even a power-based sexuality (hard to tell, neither are currently present in this production where Michael is concerned). How would you present Michael as a sexual being, just as sexual as Mephistophiles or Becky Sue?

One last thought: while many Christians are, indeed, 'happy, kind, liberal, pleasant people,' Christianity itself, as a collective, organized religion, is often, arguably, none of these things. Is it possible, in this production, to see this Michael as one view of that organization - to see her, in other words, as an archetype? Notice, I don't say Joseph Fisher's view - again, I don't want to put words in anybody's mouth.

Anonymous said...

Patrick,
Yes, I think it's fair to say that my questions about the presentation of "goodness" via the character of Michael focus less on physical attractiveness and more on the character's being less complex and, I thought, intentionally philosophically unappealing than either the "evil" or "hedonism" represented by Mephistopheles and Becky Sue, respectively.

What would I like to have seen? Patrick agrees that many Christians are nice folks, but that Christianity as a social force often is not. The same could be said of religious people and religions in general, I suppose. I don't think Michael (a Jewish figure from the Hebrew Bible who's barely mentioned in the Christian scriptures) was intended to represent Christianity. But all I saw was the oppressive side of religion in the way the character was written. I don't think that's an honest representation of what moral / religious goodness is.

OK, the Muslim invasion of Christian North Africa, the Crusades which followed, and the Inquisition were terrible things. But they happened hundreds of years ago. Islamist terrorism is hideous but the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. Sexual abuse by priests or pastors is horrible. But I'm more impressed by the way the Catholic Church has tried to clean its house than by the way US business has responded to executive corruption scandals or our government and citizenry to the practice of torture and sexual abuse in our name in Abu Graib and Guantanamo.

And in the midst of the sins of "Religion," religious people go on doing great things. Look around Portland, a vastly disproportionate percentage of this great liberal, non-religious city's services which feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate the young, protect the alien, clothe the naked, and all those other things that "good" people are supposed to do were begun by and continue in existence as a result of religious people's religious motives.

What about a Michael who didn't berate Faust with guilt and shame for abandoning his Gretchen or Margaret but who tried to inspire and challenge him with a vision of a life like Martin Luther King's, Mother Teresa's, the Dalai Lama's, Dorothy Day's or some other religious person who expressed his or her faith by doing good for others and not making themselves or others feeling horrible for their failings.

Patrick said...

Anonymous,

Thank you very much for clarifying your earlier opinions.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't say that I didn't agree with you. I don't agree with you. At all. I don't think Michael represents goodness in this play, so much as order. She represents the need for a stable, overriding order to all things; and because she is an extreme representative of this force, she represents order in its most extreme form - namely, fascism. And it is a fascism that could easily have been bred as a response to the very evils in the world which you named in your e-mail, Anon. It may have been goodness once, but in the world of the play it no longer is.

Also, I find that in this play, Michael is intended, in a sense, to be a fascist; not because that is what Joe Fisher intends, but because she is a construct of Faust's will and imagination. He is the one trying to work these questions out, not the playwright.

Of course, this is my interpretation of the play. My reading. One of the biggest questions a play can ask is, 'Is this accurate?' Is what the play attempts to portray an accurate view of the world from a general standpoint? And if not, why not? This discussion is valuable because it does just that. It puts our individual readings of the play into relief, and allows us to question them freely. Thank you, Anonymous, for starting it.

jeff said...

And purely from a technical side, in the scrpit character listings, Joseph Fisher says Michael is "to be played by an elderly woman".

-j

Anonymous said...

Well, if Michael represents Fascism, then it doesn't matter whether s/he is played by talented older woman or a talentless Venice Beach muscle stud, then the opposition of Mephistopheles' "evil" (?) hardly seems a viable option in any case.

Anonymous said...

I know what Neal's character represents. Oh yes. I know.

Anonymous said...

You fools. I say again, PANTS .