Risking soul and sanity, casual culture critic Ross Chapman brings his everyman perspective to avant-garde theatre.
We all know the feeling. It’s the night before a big presentation, and you haven’t looked at the text at all. It’s got some big, scary name on the front. Adorno, maybe, or Hegel, or Butler. You open up the first two pages, caffeinated beverage in hand. You read the introductory paragraphs. You pause, and read them again. You examine them sentence by sentence, word by word. Fifteen minutes later, you look up from the page with absolutely no idea what a single thought on the page meant. This is what it felt like for the casual theater viewer to go through the Minor Latham Playhouse production of Faust 2.0.
The publicity page for the drama says that it “inquires into the gender dynamics of Goethe’s work, imagining a counter voice to his ‘eternal feminine,’ a voice freeing itself from a logic of extrinsic desire.” But going into this expecting a feminist version of Goethe’s most famous work would be naïve, primarily because that implies that anything about this would be simple. The program notes go out of their way to refer to Faust as an “unstageable” play. Hana Worthen, the play’s dramaturg and a PhD candidate in the theatre program, points out that “while it is literally unstageable, Goethe’s Faust II needs to be seen: it is a work for theatre.”
The way that the Barnard College Department of Theatre tackled this paradox was confusing, at best. Screens on either side of the sold-out playhouse in Milbank Hall displayed a variety of images during speeches and interludes. These ranged from sex symbols to an anthropomorphized death brandishing a scythe to a slowed down video of a man fondling a woman’s breasts. Adding to the A/V confusions were three TV screens, which were placed on a table at center stage. At certain parts of the play, characters would sit in front of cameras on the table (hooked up to the TV’s) to converse, express emotion, or emphasize a body part. Particularly notable was a scene in which Faust (played by Molly Heller (JTS/GS ’15), using this as her senior thesis in performance) made a terribly sad face for an entire scene. The choice to display this emotion through a screen, instead of through the actor who sat mere inches behind it, didn’t come off as intuitive.