Mephisto warned us right at the beginning of tonight’s performance that we wouldn’t leave weeping over Marguerite’s fate. I sincerely hope that wasn’t news to the people crazy enought to book tickets to a German translation of a French operetta parody of a French opera of a German play. I was one of those people. And while I knew to expect silliness, I wasn’t sure exactly what Hervé’s Le petit Faust (or, as the Gärtnerplatztheater is calling it, Dr. Faust jun.) would be. As it turns out, it’s a wonderfully topsy-turvy version of the original, in which Maguerite is not so innocent, Faust is not so thoughtful, and no one should be taken seriously. Spinning wheels and pseudo-woeful monologues and showpiece arias all have their place… and so do yodeling, zombies, and can-can dancing.
The story: Dr. Faust is a professor at a boarding school. Valentine entrusts his troublesome sister Marguerite to Faust’s care, and Faust is immediately drawn to her. So he’s an easy target when Mephisto comes offering youth, beauty, and riches. The price? His understanding. (Not his soul—“Everyone sells that these days, without even signing a contract.”) He has imagined Marguerite as the pinnacle of innocence and purity, and with his newfound advantages, he sets out to seek her. Meanwhile, she has gone to England to teach the English can-can dancing. Faust finally finds her in a seedy nightclub, and he is horrified that an “innocent” girl could have stumbled into such a place. He flags down a carriage to take her away, and who should be inside but Valentine? Because Faust is trying to run off with his sister, Valentine fights Faust and is killed. (But don’t worry—Valentine’s death doesn’t prevent him from dancing jigs.) As Marguerite and Faust prepare for their marriage, Valentine’s ghost appears to warn Marguerite that Faust’s fortune comes from the devil. She doesn’t care—until Faust reveals that, in order to make himself worthy of her, he has given away the fortune. Suddenly, she cares a great deal and is denouncing him as the murderer of her brother. Faust is finally disillusioned, but Mephisto nevertheless forces Faust and Marguerite together “eternally,” in obedience to the wish Faust had expressed. Continue reading The (fun) little Faust→
It would be hard to imagine two productions of Goethe’s Faust more different than the one I saw at the Volkstheater last month and the one I saw at the Residenztheater on Sunday. The former was a bit of a farce. The more recent Faust, staged by Martin Kusej (the (in)famous “I’m-not-a-Regietheater-director” Regietheater director whose Idomeneo is currently causing heated debates among London opera-goers), includes a warning for loud noises and strobe lights. Apparently, the mass murder, sex, nudity, and pools of blood don’t require warnings.
I’m no enemy to non-traditional stagings of classic plays (or operas). You can only see the same basic period staging so many times before it puts you to sleep. (We’ll leave aside the fact that I haven’t actually seen a period staging of Goethe’s Faust, because I suspect pretty much every theater-going German has. As an American, I’m hardly a good representative of the audience demographic.) That said, Regietheater is a risk. A concept can work really well or fail completely.
But there’s another, particularly painful category of Regietheater, where the initial production concept is insightful and sensical, but the director simply can’t pull it off. That’s where this Faust fits. Faust (Jan Viethen) in an interdisciplinary scholar, with his biology-botany-chemistry-physics-anatomy lab (that’s a guess based on the set and props) manned by a team of exhausted postdocs, Wagner (Andreas Tobias) chief among them. He’s seen academic success in many fields and is thoroughly fed up with the impossibility of true discovery. “Habe nun, ach! Philosophie, Juristerei und Medizin, und leider auch Theologie durchaus studiert” and the impossibility of seeing “was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält” become motifs, repeatedly frequently throughout the play both by Faust and (mockingly) by others. When Faust grabs the blender from his shelf and begins mixing various unlabeled pills with a flask of alcohol, his impending death seems chillingly plausible. He is stopped by the sudden appearance of Mephisto—jointly played by the ensemble of postdocs, who have turned into devils. (Warning I was not given: full-frontal nudity in this scene!) As a start to an intriguing Faust, this is all very promising.