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Arts & Culture

Multiplicity mystifies in PW’s ‘Dr. Faustus’

Staff Writer
Thursday, October 20, 2011

Combining the text of Gertrude Stein’s opera libretto with the original music of Deepali Gupta ’12 and Zachary Segel ’13, “Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights” mixes poetry, music and cages this weekend in the Production Workshop Downspace. The show leaves the audience stunned and in definite need of a seat.

The musical opens with a red industrial spotlight and a vigorous song, using the phrase written by Stein, “The devil what the devil what do I care if the devil is there.” The entire cast showcases the melody and encapsulates the audience in the cage-like set.

The cage has no seats or assigned places, so the audience is forced to stand in the middle of the circular stage for the duration of the performance. Director Abby Colella ’12 wanted viewers to engage with the production itself. The play unfolds around and above the standing area rather like central staging in reverse.

As the show progresses, the audience is given no time or place of reference in which the plot unfolds. Characters have costumes and personalities that fit them, but are not part of any larger thematic scheme. Many take on multiple personas and voices during the show, demonstrating the indefinite nature of Stein’s characters and the talents of the actors.

One character — or what could be referred to as characters — demands the attention of the audience over and over again, dominating over the others. The tripartite character of Marguerite Ida and Helena Annabel (Ursula Raasted ’14, Annie Kocher ’14 and Olivia Harding ’12) is the most explicit use of multiplicity in any of Stein’s characters.

Raasted, Kocher and Harding continually loom large in both the scenes and the ears of the audience. Each actress has a booming voice and an exactness about her acting, highlighted by the unison action required by her character’s nature.

Faustus (Ned Riseley ’12) has the most cohesion of character and the most solitary role in the ensemble. Colella envisioned Faustus as “a person who can’t communicate or connect with others,” she said.

The rest of the cast works as an ensemble, despite the singular nature of their costumes and the talent of their acting and singing. At one point, Alexis Aurigemma ’13, who plays a woman in a tribal costume, dances and sings with a skirt made of the legs and backsides of her fellow cast. Many numbers of the musical feature the cast singing and moving in unison, leaving the audience highly stimulated by the singular movement of many varied costumes.  

The show uses rare techniques of set, sound and sight, including monster noises and makeshift camera flashes to change scenes. There is constantly something happening as the action flows.

Colella, with the cast and crew, conceived the development of the show after reading Stein’s words. The musical has neither a linear plot nor a cohesive narrative, but it does have an arc, Colella said. She wanted to create a feeling within her show.

“Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights” is sure to be shocking and stimulating in a totally unusual way, but after all, “the biggest sin is to be boring,” Colella said.

Four stars out of five

With rousing talent and unique staging, “Faustus” encourages audiences to come prepared for the multiplicity of Gertrude Stein’s characters.

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