The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus

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The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, Camenae Ensemble Theatre Company, at the Side Studio. Christopher Marlowe's cautionary tale can be cumbersome, especially certain scenes that are rarely performed today: the harassment of the pope, a visit with the Duke and Duchess of Vanholt, an audience with Emperor Carolus V, and a comic subplot involving assorted commoners, notably the professor's upstart servant, Wagner. Camenae Ensemble director Sara Keely McGuire eliminates none of these, however, instead embracing the text in its entirety.

Meeting the script's challenges in the Side Studio, a space smaller than the average classroom, makes for an array of imaginative solutions. Several scenes are danced. Faustus's Good Angel and Evil Angel are played simultaneously by Sondra Sellars, sporting two distinct voices and a costume divided up the middle. This concept is later extended when a single performer wearing several of Meagen Alms's ingenious peel-away masks, one on top of the other, plays all seven of the deadly sins.

McGuire's multidisciplinary approach (which nowadays might be dubbed the "Mary Zimmerman technique") sometimes reduces Faustus and Mephistopheles to mere variety-show hosts--and allows the physically adept Alison Dornheggen as Wagner to command focus in her every appearance. But the show's sheer inventiveness elevates this production, which features an all-female cast, above academic exercise to herald talents well worth watching.

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