Faust Triptych | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Breadline Theatre Group, at the Greenview Arts Center.

The Faust legends of Christopher Marlowe, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Thomas Mann form a fascinating triptych. The fervor of Marlowe's play feeds the torrent of Goethe's epic, which finally settles into the relative serenity of Mann's highly philosophical novel. These three masterworks embody the essential spirit of the eras in which they were conceived--the Renaissance, the Romantic era, and the modern era (Goethe's Faust is arguably the seminal Romantic work). Taken together, they shed enormous light on the incessant drive in Western culture--which Spengler called "Faustian culture"--to dominate and control nature. As Goethe's Faust, lamenting his powerlessness before the elements, asks, "Where, boundless nature, can I hold you fast?"

Bloomington-Normal's Breadline Theatre Group spent months workshopping their Faust Triptych, even flying in German playwright Dea Loher and Macedonian actor Gjorgi Jolevski. Apparently the project fell into chaos a week before opening, when Loher and Jolevski left the production. After a desperate week of late-night reconstructive rehearsals, it now offers a handful of striking images--Mephistopheles driving Faust like a steed with long reins of blood-red silk, for example--and some solid performances. But it proceeds at a ponderous pace with a uniformly somber tone for 90 minutes, ending up as little more than selected highlights from Marlowe's and Goethe's plays taken out of context (strangely, press materials credit cast member Paul Kampf with writing all of the show's text). Without a guiding vision, the piece collapses into petty displays of tortured emotion, a true shame considering the rich material the company set out to explore.

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