Sunday, May 27, 2012
Last Saturday evening, I went to see Doctor Faustus, performed at University Hall in the smaller theatre downstairs. As I took my seat on the front row right next to the side entrances to the stage, I noticed how the entirely black surroundings and the close seating seemed to envelope us, and all of our eyes were drawn to the white outline of the five pointed star centered on the stage floor.
As the lights dimmed to an anemic green and the fog started seeping over the audience, the dark, hazy outline of a human shape crawled toward us from the other side of the room. Sensing something through the vapors, I glanced behind me and flinched. Another one of these creatures crouched just below my foot. Five or six of them clustered in the midst of us, now screeching and wailing as the green light faded to darkness and the fog grew so thick that I could no longer see anyone else around me. Each one of us had been isolated in our own personal hell.
While the opening of Doctor Faustus brought me into the moment of the play, other aspects of the production, specifically the use of some of the props—and who moved them between scenes—as well as which actors played multiple parts, continued to intrigue me. First of all, the way props were used was interesting and effective. Hands detached from their owners who lurked behind the curtains manipulated a white cloth center stage just before the lights dimmed continued to use it to illuminate the words of Faustus’s contract with Lucifer as Faustus read it to us and then again later for a shadow puppet show as the townspeople in the tavern gossiped about the great magician Faustus. The five-pointed star continued to be used throughout the play, not just for scenes in which Faustus summons demons or performs magic, but also as the center for other action not directly related to incantations. Having the demons move the furniture and other props between scenes instead of crew was also very effective in keeping the theme of something evil lurking in the background throughout the play.
Secondly, the director’s choice of which actors played multiple characters added interesting connections between these characters that might not have otherwise existed in the text of the play itself. For instance, the actor who played Gluttony in the scene introducing us to Wrath, Envy, Pride, and Sloth also portrayed the pope at a religious feast in a subsequent scene. Also, the young woman who was the good angel in a luminescent white cloak became Lucifer almost directly afterward, dressed in the exact same costume. That particular change of roles was almost mind-warping, but it made sense as I remembered that Lucifer is described in Isaiah 14:12 as being the “son of the morning,” and one passage in Ezekiel that is interpreted to be about Lucifer says, “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering” (Ezekiel 28:12-13). The production included several other instances of actors that depicted several characters which were probably not intended to be related to each other, although when Marlowe’s script was originally performed, similar associations like this may have happened if actors played multiple parts. Overall, I enjoyed seeing and analyzing the blend of acting and special effects in the UCCS VAPA student production of Doctor Faustus.
Doctor Faustus poster image copyrighted © University of Colorado at Colorado Springs VAPA department and Theaterworks.