The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is the second entry in this year’s Actors’ Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center. I haven’t talked to any of the actors about it, but it must have been a real challenge for them, especially mounting the production in such a short time (as is the norm in the ARS). These actors are accustomed to doubling in Shakespeare’s plays, but here, with the exception of Faustus and Mephistopheles, most actors are tripling or quadrupling. (The amazing John Harrell plays Lucifer–you’ve got to see the hat–but also: The Pope, The German Emperor, and the Duke of Vanholt. Daniel Kennedy is Cornelius, an Old Man, Dick, The Cardinal of Lorraine, Gluttony, and more! It seems a miracle that they’re able to pull it off, but they do. Brilliantly.
The story is familiar. Faustus is driven to knowledge and makes a pact with the devil (think Pat Robertson’s slur about the recent Haiti tragedy) in which he gains 24 years of pleasure in exchange for his soul, which doesn’t seem like a bad deal to him as he watches Mephistopheles walk the earth. He doesn’t realize what damnation is all about. But he gets his deal and has some fun in the process, toying with The Pope and various common people. Until the time comes when his debt comes do. Then comes the battle.
Rene Thornton Jr. is Dr. Faustus. I had my doubts about this portrayal at first, since Faustus seems an insecure man, and that’s not how I imagined this power-hungry maniac. But I soon realized it was a starting point, and Thornton’s Faustus grows into the monster we know him to be. When the action is in full swing, Thornton is terrific, and he does a fine job of showing the man’s torment. Benjamin Curns makes a fine Mephistopheles, especially toward the end when he is enjoying Faustus’s suffering.
There are other fine performances here, as well. We don’t get many chances to see Marlowe, so get down to the Blackfriars Playhouse and catch this production.