MOSES William Goods III gives one hell of a fabulous performance as Mephistopheles, and Helen Lee is a devilish delight as Mephisto's feminine alter ego in an amazing and imaginative staging of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Faust I" and "Faust II." The epic undertaking caps the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Department of Theatre and Dance 2000-01 season.
Goods and Lee
give the devil his due
By John Berger
The two parts of Goethe's saga were presented in back-to-back, same-day performances last weekend. They are being staged on separate nights through Sunday. Both deserve full houses.
Director Dennis Carroll presents "Faust I" on a stage empty but for large cage-like wheeled platforms that are maneuvered into various configurations by secondary cast members. The largest of the platforms represents the room in which Faust conducts his research.
An original score by Anthony Bergamo, numerous video clips and single image projections created by Kurt Wurmli and John Parkinson, and striking lighting effects conceived by Kelly Berry combine in making "Faust I" a magnificent experience for adventurous theater fans. The UH production is also a great retelling of a story that plumbs the depth of the Germanic psyche.
Presented by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance
Faust I and II
On stage: "Faust I" repeats 2 p.m. tomorrow; "Faust II" 7 p.m. Sunday
Place: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii
Cost: $12 ($9 for seniors, military, UH faculty and staff; $7 for students; $3 for UH students with I.D.
Faust -- brilliant, world-weary, frustrated with the limits of human intellect, and with the diminishing returns on his own investigation of the universe -- summons the devil and stakes his soul against the devil's in acquiring knowledge and experience denied mankind. The devil -- known as Mephistopheles -- takes the deal and has Faust sign the contract in blood.
Mephistopheles frees Faust from the confines of his office and serves as his aide and protector as they roam the world. The story of Faust's quest for knowledge addresses the nature of power, faith, rational thought, emotion, human nature, scientific inquiry, the conflict between man and nature and the hypocrisy of society.
Mephistopheles' services include arranging a physical makeover that causes Faust to appear 40 years younger. Faust falls in love with Gretchen, a beautiful, innocent young woman and Mephistopheles assists Faust in winning her heart.
With Mephistopheles on his side Faust can't lose.
Goods dominates "Faust I" with a performance that tops his excellent work in "The Summer Festival: A Mirror of Osaka" at Kennedy Theatre last year. In "Summer Festival" he created a strong character despite heavy kabuki makeup. In "Faust I," he is clad in contemporary shirt and slacks, his head shaved, and he rules the stage. Whatever mode and mood Mephistopheles happens to be in -- ironic, unctuous, feigning servility or displaying bits of his malevolent power -- Goods plays to perfection.
Lee is likewise outstanding as Mephistopheles' female side. The sinuous interaction between Lee and Goods is as good an any such ensemble performance this season. Goods has most of the dialogue in "Faust I" but Lee performs with comparable finesse.
Bill Carr quickly establishes himself as Faust and creates a compelling portrayal of a brilliant scholar willing to take great risks to extend the limits of human knowledge. Unfortunately, once Mephistopheles' minions have worked their magic, Carr is replaced by Blake Kushi and Scot Davis, who thereafter work in tandem to represent the contemplative and active halves of Faust's personality. Neither matches Carr's presence as Faust but Davis exudes heroic energy and hits every emotion in the traumatic scenes that bring "Faust I" to a close.
Danel Victoria Verdugo adds a vibrant performance as a pragmatic married woman Mephistopheles romances in order to help Faust get close to Gretchen (Allison R. Jucutan).
Jucutan grew into the role on opening night. She struggled at times to deliver her lines conversationally instead of as stilted recitation, but proved more than equal to the considerable demands of her final scenes. She becomes an appealing heroine.
The opening scene is also irksome. A writer, a director and an actor argue over which elements are most important to the success of a play. The three recite their lines with stiffness.
Tomas M.C.R.A. Pais is instantly personable as Faust's loyal student. Troy M. Apostol, Jeff Ellis, Joshua Fanene and Matthew Malliski share credit for a great scene as drunken louts Mephistopheles humiliates.
Director Carroll also utilizes the resourceful Joseph D. Dodd (scenic design/prop design) and Sandra Finney (costumes) in making "Faust I" a challenging and fascinating experience. Dodd's props include large crosses that serve as religious symbols, weapons and sex toys. Finney keeps the costumes simple and uses color to distinguish the three Fausts and two Mephistos from the others.
Faust Part II
"Faust II" is a distinctly different experience from "Faust I."
Goods and Lee again give stellar performances in their dual portrayal of Mephistopheles; Davis and Kushi are much stronger in their portrayal of the active and passive-observer halves of Faust's personality.
Malliski gives a strong comic performance as the feckless and hedonistic monarch twice saved from disaster by Mephistopheles and Faust, Verdugo and Liz Powles are entertaining in supporting comic roles as the emperor's mistresses and Pais returns with good results as Faust's student and disciple.
Then there's Emi Fujinami (Helen of Troy) who is a focal point from the start. She draws attention without a word and even when the action is happening elsewhere. Fujinami's accented English adds a unique dimension to the character. She balances that with emotional power and passion.
The key to "Faust II" is understanding that Goethe's epic tale has undergone a metamorphosis. "Faust I" is primarily about Faust's search for knowledge and his love for a beautiful young woman. "Faust II" is much more complicated. Goethe addresses the impact of technology, the replacement of metal coinage with paper money, the creation of artificial life, the struggle between new ideas and tradition and the potential human costs involved in social engineering.
Faust and Mephistopheles save the Holy Roman Empire by convincing the emperor that he can meet his financial obligations by issuing promissory notes based on nonexistent gold reserves. They entertain the debauched imperial court by conjuring up the amorous ghosts of Paris (Kawika Beauchamp) and Helen of Troy as porno performers, travel through time to ancient Greece so Faust can rescue and marry Helen, return to the present to save the Emperor from foreign invaders and embark on a land reclamation project.
Carr eventually joins Davis and Kushi in portraying Faust. It's a welcome return. Carr again distinguishes himself
Director Carroll takes the "world is theater" concept to the fullest extent possible in "Faust II" by using the entire depth of the stage area -- all the way to the bare back walls. He also marches squads of cast members through the aisles, has several individuals exit through openings in the stage surface and utilizes the smaller performance areas on either side of the main stage as well.
As in "Faust I," Carroll suggests the incredible breadth of Goethe's vision by making liberal use of an original new age score, stark contrasts of darkness and light created by Berry, and an impressive kaleidoscope of still images and video clips created by Wurmli and Parkinson. A larger-than-life anatomically correct nude male doll plays a significant role in several scenes. Other objects, bits and pieces of scenery and a hodgepodge of costumes add detail and humorous elements.
Goods and Lee are as marvelous in "Faust II" as they are in "Faust I." Mephistopheles is not always all-powerful, and Goods displays depth and versatility in some of the lighter moments. Lee shows comic abilities in at least one key scene as well.
Dezmond Gilla (Archbishop), Daniel Akiyama (Steward), Joshua Fanene (General) and Jeff Ellis (Treasurer) are a fine foursome as entrenched imperial advisors and spokesmen for the status quo who find themselves outmaneuvered by Mephistopheles and Faust.
The audience for the first performances last weekend was shamefully small for a city the size of Honolulu. "Faust II" in particular is a free-wheeling theatrical experience that is best enjoyed by setting logic and conventional expectations aside and simply going with the flow. Such productions are rare in Honolulu and this gigantic undertaking should not be missed by any one with an interest in contemporary theater.
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