Review: Faust Amuses, Confuses in the Ex

Innovative reworking of Goethe's opera yields some winning moments

Faust 1

Loeb Experimental Theater, October 31 - November 8

Directed by Clint J. Froehlich ’05

Produced by Rebecca Kastleman ’05

At any show where the cast list includes such characters as Fuck-You-Fred-Phelps Angel of Heaven, Queers, and Colored Women and the front row of seats carries a warning that “a subject in this seat is accepting the possibility of molestation by a black pop princess,” the audience knows that it’s in for something out of the ordinary. The Loeb Ex’s production of Faust 1, directed by Clint Froehlich ’05, is definitely not your typical Goethe; only about five percent of the original play’s text makes it into Froehlich’s adaptation, which is also indebted to such influences as former Harvard professor Cornel R. West ’74 and Sergei Eisenstein.

Just about everybody knows the bare-bones plot of the Faust story: man sells soul to devil for magical powers. Goethe’s expanded version involves Mephistopheles, his companion, and Faust’s lover Gretchen, who eventually goes mad, kills her child, and dies. That’s just about all there is to the plot in this production.

In Faust 1, Froehlich, who is also a Crimson editor, lets dialogue takes a back seat to frequent MTV-style sequences in which Mephistopheles’ minions perform grotesque and/or seductive routines to blaring rap. Those audience members who don’t keep their radio stations tuned to KISS may quickly find the dances tiresome. Nevertheless, some of these dances are strikingly effective; in the dramatization of Gretchen’s fall from spotless maid to teenage mother, the minions torment her, and then strip her from a frock down to a short, sexy black dress, after which she joins them and becomes their lead dancer.

The show’s acting is pretty good—making it a real shame that the actors spend so little time engaged in it. As Faust, Alan Zackheim ’06 shows able delivery, although he appears emotionally neutered in some of his scenes, particularly in those with Gretchen. Malaika Butoyi ’05 shows range by convincingly playing, in succession, a dry academic, a sexy starlet, and an imprisoned madwoman; her skill is such that she even manages to make the madwoman’s insanity touching. As Mephistopheles, Aoife Spillane-Hinks ’06 shows herself to be one of Harvard’s better student actors, speaking crisply and radiating both disdain for the mortals with whom she must associate and a sadistic pleasure in watching them torment themselves. She is also lucky enough to get to wear a different gorgeous costume, designed by Jane van Cleef ’06, in each of her appearances. The chorus of minions are sufficiently alien and demonic, although it was impossible to hear any of their dialogue, which was spoken in overlapping snippets or in not-quite-unison. The play also includes a few addresses by a bizarrely dressed figure who quotes Tolstoy and Shakespeare to the audience; as far as I could tell, these interruptions had little to do with the action.

Faust 1 has all the elements of a travesty, and though it’s not as good as it could be, it is much, much better than it might have been. Thanks mostly to the strength of its acting and the coherence of its dance scenes—which consistently contribute to the show’s plot and tone—the production unexpectedly succeeds. Although it certainly isn’t to everyone’s taste, this adaptation of Faust 1 forms a solid aesthetic and dramatic whole.

The undergraduates who act in Faust 1 aren’t members of Actors’ Equity, so they aren’t required to display any warnings. However, prospective audience members should be aware that the show includes a number of possibly objectionable elements, including full frontal male and female nudity, frequent smoking, loud music, strobe lights and gunshots.

—Crimson Arts critic Alexandra D. Hoffer can be reached at