Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is the story of a scholar whose impatience with his studies lead him down a dangerous path. Frustrated with the futility of classical philosophies, Faustus delves into necromancy in order to give his soul to Lucifer in exchange for power over the demons of hell.
Officiated by his proxy Mephistophilis, Lucifer is more than willing to accept this deal, giving Faustus twenty-four years to use these powers for his own selfish ends. However, when the contract expires, will Faustus repent his sinful course? Or shall he be cast down to hell, to suffer with the demons below?
Sock ‘n’ Buskin Theatre Company’s adaptation of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus is a splendid blend of traditional verse and comic acting. The less serious nature of the performance allows the actors to take what few foibles there were in stride, adding to the humour and giving each performance a unique twist.
It is particularly difficult to set one actor above another in this production; each player is exceptionally nuanced. There’s a strong feeling that these actors aren’t simply reciting lines. They’re adding something of themselves to their characters, creating a very personalized rendition of Dr. Faustus.
Chalmers, Mary Sword, Matt Hertendy, and Meg Sutton all put on notable performances, especially since they field some of the most complex verse in the show. Chalmers’ portrayal of Faustus exemplifies his brash nature, to which Sword is a perfect counterpoint as his demonic “servant” Mephistophilis. Sword gives off that deceptive aura of subservience that appeases Faustus but, through subtle (and not-so-subtle) means, makes it quite clear as to who holds the power. Hertendy’s Lucifer is eerie, full of class and daggered smiles. He has a damningly seductive nature about him, appearing to Faustus to draw his thoughts further away from God.
Andrew Sawyer and Lauren Stiers deserve special mentions as well. Even as a background character, Sawyer’s facial expressions and physicality quite often sets the scene, triggering cascades of laughter. His portrayal of the insatiable Gluttony is not to be missed. Stiers, as the clownish Robin, is one of my favourite sub-plot characters. Robin’s attempts to harness the strength of demons mirrors Faustus’s own, albeit with disastrous results. Stiers is the perfect braggart and smart alec, is quick with the innuendo, and able to take a demon-beating like a pro.
Sets and costumes are simple but effective. Sword’s modest dress gives her a masterful presence, especially alongside Faustus’s own revealing attire, giving him a comparatively juvenile air. The costumes for Faustus’s horde of demons are particularly comical. Mostly made up of furred leggings and bare chests, their shenanigans are an element that will keep the audience laughing.
While laughter is an easy way to make such a classic (and occasionally obscure) script relatable, it can interfere with the tragedy of the performance. Eventually, the audience treats everything like a joke even when it isn’t. When an old man, trying to save Faustus’s soul, is beaten and stabbed to death by demons, there was a lot more laughter than I expected.
This can also make it hard to reconcile the ending with the rest of the performance. When Faustus sits on the edge of damnation and salvation, the play becomes suddenly serious as the devils come to collect their due.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think? Join the discussion in the comments below.
Keep in mind that seating is limited. If this show sounds appealing, reserve your tickets by sending an e-mail to snbtheatregmailcom. For $5/ticket, this show is well worth it!