Faust 2.0, more like Faust OS X, or something

The actors are sitting literally a foot behind the monitors

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. Dr. Hana Worthen, the play’s dramaturg and a professor of theater at Barnard, 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.

The quality of acting was variable. Certain scenes and characters seemed dramatically overacted, while other portions (more often monologues than dialogue) were very high caliber. Dafna Gottesman (CC ’15) impressed the audience especially in her very active role as Helen of Troy, a character acutely aware of the effects of her sexuality. This brings us back to the gender dynamics of the play, which were much more subtly displayed than one would expect from a play outwardly concerned with gender roles. One might have to reexamine the play or the text off of which it is based a few times before the implications of the drama come to light. The production came with no playwright marked, calling itself only as “after Faust.” This heavily increased the roles of director Sharon Ann Fogarty and dramaturg Hana Worthen in the creation of this show.

This was not a play for the beginner or the faint of heart. Below is an excerpt from “Note on Goethe and Theatre” provided by the dramaturg. If this speaks to you on a personal level, please seek it out this production however you can. If it leaves you confused and bewildered, consider looking at other productions on campus.

“Theatre is a liminal site through which socio-political sensibilities are carried; rather than a hermetically sealed space, theatre collects a permeable public, is a public art, par excellence. The theatre’s ‘public’ – institutional and aesthetic – nature is its condition of existence: the theatre both assumes and produces its public… Yet what is ‘good’ theatre? A theatre that blindly reproduces its contemporary conventions, the theatrical status quo? Theatre that thinks critically is particularly at stake when the institutions of the stage resist reflecting on the deeply ideological implication of the arts in the reproduction of social life.”

Everything’s better when it’s close up via Barnard Department of Theatre