By Holli Harms
With certain theatrical companies, you have expectations. The mere mention of their name evokes evolutionary images that you know will wow you. You get excited to see what they have to bring to the table and they bring it, usually, and more.
But then along comes a production that is such a discouraging shade of drab you cannot believe this is the same company.
Unfortunately, that is Mabuo Mines Faust 2.0. An utter catastrophe of uninspiring staging that left me dumbfounded. How could this have gone so wrong? Faust, the story of a highly intellectual man who gives his soul to the devil in order to achieve unlimited knowledge, wealth and worldly pleasures is a masterpiece, an operatic emotional ride. How did this ride get so derailed?
We first meet Faust ( Benton Greene) at home dissatisfied with his existence. Mephistopheles (Paul Kandel) appears offering a life of opulence and knowledge in exchange for Faust’s soul. Faust says great as he does not care about the afterlife, it is the life here on earth he is interested in. Mephistopheles doesn’t just toy with Faust, oh no, he is there to take from any and all, and so he enters the Emperor of Rome’s court as a fool introducing paper money and thus creating a spending spree that will leave the court in ruins and dependent on him. Create the problem, then solve the problem over and over leaving the Emperor and his court like hummingbirds in need of sugar. Mephistopheles then sends Faust to the realm of mothers where he brings back Helen of Troy, marries her and they have a child, Euphorion, a boy who can fly, but he flies too high and dies (yes the Icarus story). Helen, heartbroken, leaves in a mist sent from Hades; now alone Faust helps the Emperor defeat his enemies and thus becomes a rich and powerful man. With his riches and power Faust pushes back the sea and creates a home on the newly made land. However, the view outside his home is blocked by the dwelling of an elderly couple. Faust tells Mephistopheles to have them moved somewhere else. Mephistopheles instead has them killed. Their death is Faust’s regret. Now a penitent man he is struck blind, dies, and ascends to Heaven on the wings of angels.
That’s the story. Pretty great with a lot for the actors to chew on, but when you have them acting to cameras, set up with screens that distort and block their actual faces, or the majority of them prerecorded and airing on one of the five screens hanging, then, well, they’re acting alone, and that solitude creates a void between the actors and the words they are saying. They are disconnected to one another. And guess what? That disconnection disconnects us. Relying on cameras and technology to tell the story is not always innovative, nor creative. If not executed correctly it is a stagey boring mess.
There are two performances that are able to rise above the constrictions of camera-stylized acting placed on this incredibly talented, but horribly restricted cast, and they are Andrea Jones- Sojola, who’s singing voice draws us in like nothing else. Maybe there’s a reason this epic story is often an opera. The emotions so big, deep and vast only music can carry them. And Karen Kandel, as Care. She is prerecorded, but her truth and honesty come through the screen. She understands how to act to the camera and she draws us in. We are listening. Finally.
Too bad both of these fine actresses were not allowed to do more. Too bad this fine cast was not allowed to show their skills.
Collaboration is the key element of theatre. Everyone bringing to the game their best. This felt like one person’s idea of how it should go and everyone attempting to squeeze themselves into that idea.
Disappointing is all I can say. So very.
With: Faust- Benton Greene, Mephistopheles- Paul Kandel, Helen of Troy- Angelina Impellizzeri, Panthalis/Mary – Andrea Jones-Sojola, Euphorion – Oliver Medlin, Paris/Gravedigger – Chris Rehmann
APPEARING ON VIDEO:
Greg Mehrten* (EMPEROR), Bill Raymond* (GOD/ARCHBISHOP), Jim Findlay (GENERAL), Terry O’Reilly (TREASURER), Karen Kandel* (CARE), Black-Eyed Susan (NEED), Gloria Miguel* (DEBT), Ching Valdez-Aran* (WANT), Rosemary Fine* (MOTHER), Molly Heller (DAUGHTER) Maude Mitchell* (BAUCIS), Arthur French* (PHILEMON), Sam Balzac and Jason Weisinger (GARDENERS), Chloe Worthington, Carina Goelbelbecker, Gabrielle Djenné, and Britt Burke (FLOWER GIRLS), Bella Breuer, Ruma Breuer, Julia Da-In Patton and Zani Jones Mbayise (GIRLS).
PRODUCTION: Set & Lighting Design – Jim Clayburgh, Costume Design – Marsha Ginsberg, Video Design – Jeff Sugg, Sound Design – Fitz Patton, Original Music – Eve Beglarian, Choreography – Kristi Spessard, Stage Manager – Gina Solebello, Production Manager – Jørgen Noodt Skjærvold, Technical Director – Matthew Mauer, Assistant Director – Molly Heller
Assistant Stage Manager – Sam Gibbs, Associate Video Designer – Robin Ediger-Seto, Hair and Makeup Design – Mara Schiavetti, Associate Costume Design – Kat Jeffery, Assistant Set and Lighting – Eleanor Bryce, Sound Engineer – James Kogan, Production Assistant – Rebecca Tyree, Lighting programmer- Kent Sprague, Assistant Sound Designers – Sun Hee Kil & Bradlee Ward, Wardrobe – Crystal Kovacs
Faust 2.0 running March 27th – April 14th, 2019
Mabou Mines, 150 First Avenue, Second Floor, New York, NY 10009. For tickets go HERE