A new take on a modernist classic

Boy, played by Kelly Ann Lawson (left center), and Dog, played by Denee Deckert (right center), are being electrocuted in order for Dr. Faustus, played John Warner (not pictured), to go to hell so he can save Margarita Ida and Helena Annabel, played by Sarita Cannon. AL LIN / GUARDSMAN

By Ben Taylor

Gertrude Stein’s avant-garde play, “Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights” is considered by some to be a right of passage for theater artists with modernist leanings. Many theater groups have tried their hand at the play, which dances playfully on the razors edge of incomprehensibility, but City College’s production marked the first time Dr. Faustus had been performed with a full orchestral composition to accompany the delightfully nonsensical dialogue.

This play hits you at a cerebral level, like a Bob Dylan song come to life, sucking you in to a warped place where tone, mood and imagery are everything. Do not look for meaning here. About all you need to know is that Dr. Faustus, played by John Warner, sells his soul to the devil so he cannot go to hell. but Faustus wants to go to hell so that he can help Margarita Ida and Helena Annabel, played by Sarita Cannon.

Blink your eyes and you may be scratching your head wondering what you missed. Pay close attention and you are likely to be equally as lost. It’s even better to turn off your information-reducing valve and let the weirdness overtake you.

City College’s music and theater arts department production of the play was well worth checking out for anyone interested in modernist and surrealist artistic expression, and especially for fans of Steins work.

But even for the layman, the dramatic score composed by David Ahlsrom, Patrick Toebe’s stage design , and Jeffrey Kelley’s interpretive lighting, were mesmerizing, working together perfectly to create a dreamlike world to fall into, like Alice down the rabbits hole. Tallen Sturm’s choreography was inspired, and his performance as The Viper was show stealing, graceful and mysteriously eerie.

The surreal nature of the play was further enhanced by the imaginative costume design, courtesy of Jose Leiva and Susan Linneman, which transformed the actors into spirits, specters, ghouls and ghosts from a dreamlike underworld, making you see the characters in the light of some fragile beauty which if you reached out to touch might crumble like old book pages or butterfly wings.

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