Dr. Faustus
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by David Allen

The story of Dr. Faustus, an intellectual, philosopher, or artist who makes a pact with the Devil, has been taken on by many great writers in the past, including Christopher Marlowe and German writers’ Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Thomas Mann. It provides an excellent avenue for a writer to delve in the subtle comic ironies of a character so full of himself and the world’s opinion of his greatness that he fails to pay attention to the life sustaining basics of love, family and selfless sacrifice.

In David Mamet’s new drama Dr. Faustus, now playing at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, Faustus (David Rasche) is a doctor of philosophy and speaks in the flourishes of his time and profession. While those old speech patterns may put off some members of the audience, they bring a literary depth and poetic rhythm to this time-honored story. Early on in the drama we hear Faustus say: “The mind is a mill which can incessant turn, till its mere operation focus the stress inward and the stones grind themselves to dust.” In this passage we glean an encapsulation of the entire drama and Faustus’ fatal flaw. Later he admits to his friend: “My sin is great, pardon my self-absorption.”

But though his intellect is able to recognize his faults, he is so addicted to self-absorption that he risks all that is good in his life for his addiction. He is a very learned, charming and clever man, but he is out of control, and when the Devil appears in the guise of a magician named Magus (Dominic Hoffman), Faustus plays easily into his hands. “One finds,” Magus says to Faustus, “in my profession, sir, the greater the intellect, the more ease in its misdirection.”

This is a very literary play full of foreshadowing, metaphor and similes. The language has richness similar to Shakespeare’s poetry but is uniquely Mamet as is his dramatization of Faustus’ life. Hence, it will appeal more to the literary minded. English literature or drama professors will probably want to see this play several times, unearthing new layers of meaning with each visitation, even obtaining a copy of the manuscript to study and use as a teaching tool. It will also have a great appeal to anyone delving in the arts, because it’s essentially a portrait of an artist addicted to himself. It is also full of comic irony but on a much deeper, subtler level than most comedies. Additionally, it’s a great psychological study of how easily great intellect can take a wrong turn, producing more regret than good.

For tickets or more information call (415) 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.

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