A Prelude to Faust

at Open Eye Figure Theatre through October 22612.874.6338

Ralph Berlovitz

Open Eye Figure Theatre offers its first full production in its new south Minneapolis performance space by reaching into its past, having staged variations on the Faust myth in 1998 and 2000. This year's model is a fine thing indeed, rife with symbolism and dream logic, with stretches that attain a compressed, restless power. The evening kicks off with Faust's servant Kasper, a bawdy puppet who makes his way through the action wisecracking, fornicating, farting, and eventually ripping off a trio of demons who tempt him with an offer that is positively...wait for it...Faustian. Creator Michael Sommers balances this ribald stuff with meditative passages that draw on Goethe's Faust: the thinker as tormented by ideals, striving for experience, and permanently famished for the next breakthrough. Michael Koerner's original score, performed live by a four-piece orchestra, is catchy and dynamic, underscoring both the humor and the depth of the action. While this Faust is primarily a puppet show (albeit of sometimes astonishing sophistication), Julian McFaul also appears as the titular seeker, at one point reaching for the apple of knowledge, the quill of creation, and the wineglass of intoxication, only to have all three cruelly snatched away by disembodied hands. At other points the show works on the level of Jungian symbolism, juxtaposing a whole apple with an eaten one, a full glass of wine with an empty one, and an enormous book flapping in midair as though it has taken flight. Of course, just when matters start getting heavy, Kasper makes the scene again, variously getting henpecked by his wife, summoning awful creatures from a book of spells, and turning Faust's faithful Wagner (here as a puppet done up in drag) into a poodle. While it helps to have read a little Goethe, it's also possible to simply take this show at face value as wildly inventive entertainment. Not only is it the sort of show one regrets ending, it's tempting to come back the next night and see what unlikely moments one missed the first time. Apparently the devil really is in the details.

 
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