The Faust legend — a man selling his soul for Earthly gain and pleasure — is a longstanding one that still resonates in popular culture. It's present in movies, television, and even Bauhaus' "Party of the First Part."
A lot of the mythology comes from Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, where a driven man tires of human knowledge and philosophy and decides to go the dark side. The Classical Actors Ensemble gives us a bright interpretation of the tale that lets the show's humor come out without scrimping on the play's dark underbelly.
At the top of the production, Faustus (Michael Ooms) has found that his drive to learn all that is to be known in human science and philosophy has gone stale. He wants a fresh challenge, and a couple of young magicians offer him the knowledge to summon a demon. That arrives in the form of Mephistopheles (Arthur Moss), who comes across as much as a warm and folk-spun Southern preacher as a servant of Lucifer.
Before you can play Judas Priest's "Deal with the Devil," Faustus has traded his soul for 24 years of power, knowledge, and a demonic servant who will fulfill his every wish. Marlowe's play follows an episodic path from there, giving us glimpses into the life that Faustus leads during these years. Along with that, there are moments spent with his servant, Wagner, and a stable boy, Robin, who steals one of Faustus' dark tomes and uses it — in the way lots of us, I think, would use demonic powers — to get free drinks at the local tavern.
Ooms and Moss make a great pair as their two characters bond and spar throughout the play. Moss keeps the sorrow and anguish that Mephistopheles feels from being cut off from heaven buried deep, but it comes out in when needed. Ooms makes the always-taking Faustus intriguing throughout. We may not sympathize with his plight, but we can understand what drives the man to make his decisions.
And despite the dark undertones, Doctor Faustus can be a lot of fun. Director Joseph Papke has added plenty of clever touches, from the mask-wearing seven deadly sins to the good and evil puppets that advise Faustus throughout the show. Then there's the scene where Faustus meets the Pope, which ends up just being a "Yakety Sax" short of a Benny Hill skit.
Like all CAE shows, a live band provides music during the play and between acts, and their jazzy, vibrant playing add a lot to the mix. 'Tis the season for ghouls, devils, and unearthly dealings, and Doctor Faustus fits the bill.
IF YOU GO:
Through November 1 (in repertoire with The Tempest)
Minneapolis Theatre Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 651-321-4024 or visit online