Tuesday evening’s performance “Faust in the Box” by Bridge Markland provided an amazing experience. For an hour and a half, Markland played three different roles, Heinrich Faust, Mephistopheles, and Gretchen. Changing characters in rapid succession, she presented each one in a very convincing fashion. Most impressive in that context were the ways in which she slipped in and out of male and female characters: Repositioning her shoulders, moving her facial muscles in specific ways, and employing speech patterns characteristic of the respective gender, Markland demonstrated to the audience how much “seeing” a man or a woman depends on cultural habits and norms.
Markland’s “Faust in the Box” concentrated on the part of the play in which Mephistopheles gets Heinrich Faust, the forelorn scholar, a woman, namely Gretchen. This was an obvious choice, since this part lends itself particularly well to the gender switching described above. Markland lip-synced to a well-researched and professionally-cut soundtrack composed of Goethe’s Faust–read by different actors–and popular music from Robbie Williams to the Rolling Stones. The result was an extremely engaging and very funny mixture, which highlighted the elasticity of Goethe’s text.
What got lost due to the cutting was the depth and richness of Goethe’s language and treatment of the Faust-theme. Already Goethe’s Faust is to some extent a critique of the patriarchal norms that forced young women with illegitimate children to commit illegal acts. In Markland’s performance, it sometimes seemed that a lot of outside, gender-critical music and performance was necessary to show patriarchy’s oppressive laws. Another element that such a shortened performance was unable to deliver was the seriousness of Faust’s striving for greater knowledge. Markland’s focus on the somewhat pathetic elements of the German academic trying to know “everything” made for good laughs, but that’s only one side of the story. The other one present in Goethe’s version is a lesson how good intentions and ambitions can go awry quickly when not kept in check by a layer of reflection, and the big question is, what this layer of reflection is supposed to be made of: philosophy? religion? spirituality?
None of this took away from a wonderful performance, and we would like to thank Bridge Markland for coming and our large audience for their interest in this play.