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.
Faust is the most famous play by the most famous German playwright (if you still go by a canon of classical literature). It is based on the age-old myth of a human selling his soul for earthly possessions and power. In this play, it is a scholar seeking true knowledge.
Faust (Part One) starts out with the devil Mephistopheles making a bet with God. Pointing to Heinrich Faust, a scholar pursuing everything that can be known, Mephistopheles claims he can take him off the righteous track. Sure enough, tempted by Mephistopheles in his study, Faust, who is frustrated with the state of academia, agrees to the famous Faustian bargain of accepting the devil’s services on earth as the exchange of serving the devil in hell. The fine print of this deal, however, also specifies that if Faust is enamored with a moment such that he wishes to stay in that moment, Faust will die right then and there.
On his travels with the devil, Faust meets Gretchen, one of the many tragic virgin figures in the bourgeois plays of the era. His romantic encounter with Gretchen leaves her mother and brother dead and Gretchen pregnant. In the famous prison cell scene where Gretchen finds herself after having drowned her child, Faust attempts to save her unsuccessfully, as she has gone mad. This is the end of the more famous, and often-played part One.
Part Two goes for another round of adventures which end with Faust going to heaven, as he loses only half of the bet, and is therefore redeemed for his search for knowledge.
Bridge Markland will deliver an updated performance of Goethe’s Faust, highlighting issues regarding identity, gender, etc. If you want to see Bridge in action, click here:
Faust–also known as Faustus, or Dr. Faust(us)–has roamed the pages of world literature in many cultures. Arguably, he has left his most decisive mark on German literary history, where Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s play “Faust” continues to inspire artistic expression from literature to theater to film.
Regrettably, the intellectual satisfaction from engaging with this rich cultural text has been undermined quite often by not-so-great pedagogy for many generations of (German) students; they had to memorize parts of the play, bow to the unquestioned (and distorted) cultural authority of Goethe as portrayed by literary historians, and write boring essays about minute details. (Alright, it wasn’t that bad probably, but that’s at least what older generations keep telling us.)
So, we chose a different route, and bring you “Faust in the Box” by internationally renowned artist Bridge Markland. Performing “Faust” for a 21st-century audience, Markland focuses on topics that conventional readings often overlook(ed), ranging from gender relations to identity questions, etc.
Join us for Bridge Markland’s performance (in English), organized in collaboration with Decatur’s PushPush theater, and generously supported by The Halle Foundation:
When: Tuesday, October 18, 7:30pm
Where: Presser Hall/Mclean Auditorium, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA 30030
The event is free and open to the public. Please contact Gundolf Graml (ggramlATagnesscott.edu) with any questions.