Camelot was a very good regional production, a straight read on the script enhanced by a Merlin/Pellinore with excellent stage presence and sly comedic timing. Arthur was just spanking, alternately vulnerable and determined, and handling his sometimes agonizingly clunky dialogue with aplomb and charisma... and Guenevere carried the whole damned play. She was awesome. Wicked and clever and lovable and manipulative and loyal unto death... unfortunately, to two men at once.
Unfortunately, the directorial decision had been made to have Lanthelot thpeke with an awful lithp, and Mordred, while nicely evil, didn't have the charisma to carry the role or hold up his end of the stage when matched against a powerful Arthur. So he came across as rather flat.
Still, I got a bit weepy at the end.
Faustus was awfully good. It was a two-hour production, with intermission (fast and dirty, yeah.) which kept the comedic interludes and the seven deadly sins setpiece, and ditched some of the act IV civilian-harrassing. The set was gorgeous, a two-tier library with multiple concealed doors and traps and a massive clock with visible gearworks dominating the balcony.
The slapstick interludes actually made dramatic sense in this staging--they pointed up the horror of the damnation rather than diminishing it.
What was very odd was, seeing them staged, they didn't seem incommensurate at all. Or, no more so than the Porter in Macbeth or the peons in All's Well. In other words, you could see the logic of them in the structure of the play, especially as they were chiefly brief scenes that felt like they resonated in couterpoint to the scenes of the main narrative.
Because they're not just humor. He's making a point, I think, that it's not just Faustus who's an ape or an ass that can't see beyond his own desires and fears to grasp what's really going on. Everybody in the play is like that... except the devils. None of us are listening to angels, none of us are reading the whole text. Nobody's thinking.
I've never seen Faustus staged before (It seems to be performed pretty rarely), and now I'm wondering if the general academic disdain for those scenes doesn't grow out of the anything-Kit-can-do-Will-can-do-better school of criticism, and a misunderstanding of what the play is about.
The set design and costuming were pretty nice, too, although I'm not sure there's enough brain scrub in the world to get the image of Lucifer's leather-daddy chic in black patent out of my mind.
Mephistopheles is really the heart of that play. Faust himself is sort of a manic-depressive trapped in a pretty standard morality play. He's halfway decent to anybody about exactly twice, and it otherwise a self-centered amoral jerk.
Mephistopheles has pathos, though, and I think that's the really subversive thing about the play. All your sympathy falls in with the fallen angel. The actor playing Faust was quite good, with a fluid, colloquial delivery that made Marlowe's poetry flow very naturally and smoothly, and very believable in his mood swings and eventual breakdown.
Mephistopheles was brilliant. He was the character who engaged and played the audience, projecting both a kind of sorrowful patience and much-repressed suffering. He had a way of delivering the "Oh, Faustus," line that just broke my heart, and the "Yes, Faustus, and most dearly loved of God," was almost a whisper.
Just heartbreaking loss. Beautiful.
And of course Mephistopheles has most of the really good lines.
You understood him to care for Faustus, and be working to damn him anyway, and he was just. dead. funny. In this dry, laconic way. Frex: Every time Faustus swore by his (Faustus') life, Mephistopheles would turn and fix the audience with this "can you believe this guy's chutzpah?" look that had people on the floor. And in the pope-taunting scene, Faustus snatches the delicacy off the Pope's plate, grabs a bite, and tosses it to Mephistopheles. At which point, we can see it's a glazed doughnut.
Mephistopheles sniffs it, takes another bite out of it, makes a kind of hey-not-bad shrug, turns to the audience in kind of a "You want some?" and then shrugs and tucks it into his sleeve when nobody takes him up on it.
Hysterical. Stole the whole damned scene.
And then, in the end, rather than the devils dragging Faustus screaming to Hell, they all arrive, and Faustus is cringing in the corner. And Mephistopheles just holds out his hand. Which Faustus stares at, and reaches for--and then lunges past, and latches onto Mephistopheles' leg, clinging to him.
And as the lift takes them down, Mephistopheles touches Faustus' hair with his wing.
Just beautifully done. About the only nod to the homoerotic subtext in there, it being Utah and all, but a nice touch.
The audience seemed a bit stunned after the descent into Hell, the darkened stage, and the last flash-bang. They didn't start clapping until the light came back up, and the applause was a little uncertain from some quarters. (Other quarters provided an enthusiastic standing ovation.) I suspect many of them didn't really understand what they were getting into, in what I consider the basic defining difference between a Shakespeare play and a Marlowe one.
That being, Shakespeare likes people. Marlowe can generally find one per play to generate some sympathy for... but he kills her anyway. *g*
I hadn't realized until seeing it staged that the play puts you so terribly in sympathy with Mephistopheles and more, goes out of it's *way* to do so--and then yanks that out from under your feet in the end. It's in some ways a rhetorical argument, structured to make you question assumptions, and I imagine if I were a 16th century Christian it would niggle at my mind for *days* afterwards.
and now, back to the coal mines.