Out of this world

Doctor Faustus

by Christopher Marlowe
Directed by Jay Michaels
Genesis Repertory Ensemble
Jan Hus Theatre
351 East 74th St. (718-932-3577)
Equity showcase (closes Sept. 2)
Review by Sheila Mart

As with most classics, Doctor Faustus transcends time and can be made applicable to every generation. The Genesis Repertory Ensemble's production of Christopher Marlowe's linguistic gem was living proof of this. Written in verse by this contemporary of Shakespeare, it is highly symbolic; Jay Michaels chose to set this philosophical parable in the present-day fashion-industry milieu. Faustus (Jo Barrick) is now a well-known designer, obsessed with what she feels is her infinite power in the garment business, indeed in all facets of humanity - a control freak. She is irreligious, not believing that there is a heaven, so she "conjures up" Mephistophilis, a fallen angel (Daryl Lathon), whose boss is Lucifer, Prince of Hell (Michaels), so that she can explore what hell might offer. Faustus has to give her soul and her body (an act she enjoys) to the Devil - through Mephistophilis to Lucifer. Would she find the happiness she desperately seeks? How pertinent is that search to today's celebrities and successful business icons?

The tone of this production reflects the desires of Dr. Faustus. For example, the Pope (Sid Hammond) is portrayed as a rock icon, an obvious attack on traditional religion. The Seven Deadly Sins - Pride (Anna Emily Altman), Covetousness (Miranda Zukowski), Wrath (Hammond), Envy (Anna Szyszko), Gluttony (Drew Staniland), Sloth (Debra Washington), and Lechery (Melissa Colon) - are displayed for the doctor, who enjoys them all. As is predictable in a fable which pits good against evil, the conclusion is inevitable.

Although Marlowe visualized Faustus as a male philosophical scholar, it matters not that Michaels chose to make this character a female subscribing to a different philosophy - except for one thing. Transgender casting demands certain line changes (this property is now in the public domain). One example - at one point Faustus expresses a need "for a wife." In view of her sexual attraction to Mephistophilis, that line, implying lesbianism, seemed out of place.

The standard of performance was generally high, even though some of the performers seemed to be struggling with the rhythm of the verse. Characterization is an elusive goal in this kind of piece, but there were commendable achievements: notably Barrick as Faustus, although more modulation at the transitions would have been more effective; Lathon as Mephistophilis, who was evil incarnate; Michaels as Lucifer and Robert F. Saunders as Knight, a skeptical reporter, both of whom were excellent. Drew Staniland (Carolus) gave a credible interpretation, except for the Southern accent, which could have been a nod to the current political scene. Travis Taylor (Wagner), Milda DeVoe (Good and Evil and Lorraine), Mario Prado (Valdes, a mystic), Elizabeth MiCari (She, an ancient goddess), and Michael Wright as Duke Vanholt, a power-broker, all turned in valid performances. Amy K. Browne (Helene) seemed miscast - but she had a good command of the verse.

Michaels's direction was perfectly paced and sensitively presented. Adam Blair's lighting effects, Michael Fortunato's music, sound, and masque were beautifully creative and supported the mood.

Amy K. Browne's costumes were just right.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart