Striding Lion's The Great and Terrible Faustus is great indeed

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Zach Nichol as Faustus and Darling Squire as Envy - COURTESY STRIDING LION
  • courtesy striding lion
  • Zach Nichol as Faustus and Darling Squire as Envy

Striding Lion's The Great and Terrible Faustus guides the audience through a devilish fun house of sorts, offering seven different paths with seven different characters, each of whom gets a different glimpse of Faustus as the doctor tries to resist Lucifer's temptations. Every character represents a different deadly sin; during my journey I followed the velvet-suit-clad Lust (Erik Strebig).

The performance, which shifts between group dance numbers and smaller vignettes featuring individual characters, is staged everywhere from the theater's lobby to the backstage to the basement boiler room, where Strebig gracefully swings from pipes on the ceiling. He plays a complex character, burdened with luring Faustus to Lucifer's side while possessed of true affection for Pride, a clean-cut character danced by Garth Johnson.

Performers are often given the shield of distance and the wings of a stage to recover from a physically and emotionally taxing performance like Strebig's; but in this case, the audience is privy to every single breath as well as to every movement and interaction.

And once in a while, things get even more up close and personal—characters grab audience members and take them to undisclosed locations, while others are asked to dance or partake in some sleight of hand, and everyone gets stared straight in the eyes by the performer leading him or her through the story. It's impossible not to immediately become invested in the lives of these characters. There were moments that I found myself close to tears, wanting to reach out and comfort Lust as he pined for Pride and reluctantly fell to the side of Lucifer, danced by a commanding and mesmerizing Jacinda Ratcliffe.

While the dancing is impressive, perhaps even more so are the silent acting and eerie singing; the music all comes from the stage of the main theater, where different groups are led to sit and watch as their leaders sing standards like "Dream a Little Dream" and "Fever." The songs echo in every crevice of the theater, adding to the performance's haunted air.

The most tantalizing thing about this immersive show may be its potential for revisiting and rewatching. From glimpses around the corner or down a hallway, it was clear that each group got a completely different performance—what to me was a heartbreaking story may well have seemed a comedy to the audiences following Gluttony or Sloth. Those with enough time and money might even consider attending the show multiple times, comparing and contrasting each adventure. What Striding Lion manages to pull off is not just entertaining and skillfully executed, but sui generis, unlike any dance-theater experience I've ever had. 

The Great and Terrible Doctor Faustus Through 2/29, Fri-Sat 10:30 PM, Sun-Mon 7 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, stridinglion.com, $30.

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