The future of theater in Dallas should be what The Drama Club is doing with Faust. This all-local consortium of disgustingly talented writers, actors, directors and designers has created a fresh and contemporary version of the old Goethe tale (with shades of Christopher Marlowe) of a doctor who sells his soul to the devil. In return, the doc gets wealth and knowledge without limits, forgetting he has hell to pay later on.
The devil is in all the details and it’s tempting to reveal the clever tricks and inventive gewgaws The Drama Club has come up with for its production at Bryant Hall. Co-writers Lydia Mackay, Michael Federico (seen recently as half the cast in Kitchen Dog’s two-man Pinter play, The Dumb Waiter) and Jeffrey Schmidt, who also directed this show, haven’t relied on lavish props and obvious special effects to illuminate the many locations and complicated characters in their Faust. Instead, they provide a few ingenious visual gimmicks and then just hint at other things, letting our imaginations fill in the blanks. It’s much more terrifying to imagine what’s behind that moving wall or beyond that open window than to see what actually is there.
Yes, they open the real windows of the little Bryant Hall black box theater (the building next to Kalita Humphreys on Turtle Creek). Pushing audience seats into a corner of the space, which seems especially pitch-black dark for this show, Schmidt affords his actors ample territory for dancing, tumbling, rambling and lurking. Except for leads Cameron Cobb, who plays chemist John Faust, and Mackay, who plays Mephistopheles, the other nine members of the ensemble take on multiple roles with only simple adjustments in costume and makeup to denote differences.
The result is a fast-paced two-plus hours of humpy supernatural drama (with flashes of comedy). This Faust is a hard-R-rated morality play built on modern themes, mainly Big Pharma. Faust’s lab is trying to create the next big-dollar prescription drug. When his pitch to a conference call of international drug buyers — portrayed as cawing crows crowding the same wire — falls flat, sexy Mephistopheles waltzes in to make a different deal. “I’ll be your slave in this life,” she promises Faust, “but in the next life, you’re mine.”
With his soul sold, Faust’s drug, Red Lion, which “touches the mind of God” and comes with the usual litany of horrible side effects (“sneezing, drooling, bleeding”), roars onto the world marketplace. It makes addicts of its users, including Faust himself. Down he goes into a netherworld of sex clubs, mob deals (John Flores in a red boiler suit is a terrific mob boss), an affair with a much-younger girl (the marvelous Chandler Ryan, whom we loved last month in Echo’s Adventures of Flo and Greg) and introductions to the seven deadly sins. How they are personified is too good to reveal. OK, just one, Sloth is a screenwriter (played by Andrews W. Cope). Too perfect.
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The design team for Faust has kept it all elegantly simple. Lightweight moving walls constantly refigure the acting areas in scenery by Amanda West. Korey Kent’s costumes have a hot S&M streak, with suggestions of Japanese dolly-birds, glam-drag and one quick glance at the little possessed girl from The Exorcist. Choreographer Zenobia Taylor keeps them all grinding and whirling to original musical by Tim O’Heir and songs by Cobb. MAC Cosmetics was involved in creating some gorgeous eyes and lips for Mephistopheles, Envy and other characters.
It all just looks and sounds divinely decadent. And every actor in this group is enviably good. Cobb has never been better than he is as Faust, aging from his 30s to his 80s, learning, as every Faust must, that as it says in the Bible, “the wages of sin is death.” Mackay, her voice as emptily seductive as a veteran phone sex worker, is a feline lady Satan, always in charge. Drew Wall drives Faust around as a too-friendly cab driver (wait till you see how they create the ride).
Faust is fearsome fun. There are images in it that will haunt you long past Halloween. It would be a sin to miss it.
Faust continues through October 24 at Bryant Hall, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. $15-$35 through thedramaclub.org or at the door.