There is more style than substance to this Tuesday Laboratory American premiere of British playwright Mark Ravenhill’s contemporary reworking of the life and times of Goethe’s legendary devil worshiper, set in the cyber-stoned days at the end of the millennium. Allan Hendrick, supported by a committed ensemble, has imaginatively staged the work beyond the limits of its content. The action speaks much, much louder than the words.
As Faust incarnate, the celebrated philosopher Alain Pelletier (Hendrick) has come to Los Angeles to spread his doomsday warnings through a series of high-tech publicity events. His mantra is: People need to think less and learn to live a little. Soon he embarks on a hedonistic journey of sex, drugs and sleaze-Net surfing with gay runaway Pete (Jason Peck), who is escaping the tyranny of his wealthy father.
Ravenhill never gets beyond establishing that Alain’s revelation of the uselessness of mankind and civilization will eventually lead to a hopeless fatalism among his devotees that the flawed guru will never be able to control. The performances and the production values, however, keep the playwright’s redundancy from becoming tedious.
Hendrick is intriguingly wistful in his approach to Alain, allowing his affect on others to wash over him. He is particularly effective as events move beyond Alain’s influence and control, reducing him to a state of bemused disbelief. Peck offers a dangerous presence as the eager-to-be-molded Pete, who savagely turns on his mentor once Alain’s all-too-human frailties begin to emerge. Brian Newman is outstand-ing as the life-weary young pickup, Donny, who proves the ultimate fallibility of Alain’s preachings.
Serving as effective onstage witnesses, stagehands and commentators to the action are Chastity Dotson, Alex Fox, Dolley Levan, Dan McKeever and Ronald Robinson.
Proving as valuable to the production as the performances are the mood evoking set, lighting, sound and costume designs of Don Llewellyn, Frank McKown, Ruth Judkowitz and Ed Gotfir, respectively.