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|A CurtainUp Review
A Prelude to Faust
By David Lipfert
This is part of our coverage of the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater. For more details and reports go here
Rather than a prelude, this is a sequel to Goethe's Faust. Michael Sommers first shows the Biblical creation story (serpent/Devil tempting Eve in the Garden) and then its opposite where an ordinary guy rejects a tempting Faust-like pact with the Devil. Prelude is a leisurely show largely in verse, and the scenes unfold without the frenetic pace typical of puppet theater. It is also full of concept words scrawled in chalk, toy furniture and lots of smoke plus lighting effects. The humor is there but so is a strong philosophical side.
This must be one of the funnier takeoffs on the Faust legend. To support his wife Lil and bratty kids, Kasper has taken on a job no one else wanted-cleaning out Faust's study following his dramatic demise. Brushing off the fact it might be haunted, he blithely blunders in, only to find a book of incantations that the scholar left behind. A few lines of Latin are enough to summon demons that make Kasper an offer they think he can't refuse. For 24 years he can be king of the heap with a little help from them, but afterward he must spend eternity in hell. Kasper asks for-and gets-a 24-hour trial offer. No dumbbell, he first gets them to clean up Faust's study and then whisk in a feast from the four corners of the earth for himself and pal Marmoset. Maybe out of inertia or maybe from good old bourgeois fear, Kasper does refuse the pact, much to the demons' dismay. As a gesture of courtesy, he undoes some of the magic by making Marmoset's new-found poodle revert to Faust's effete follower Wagner.
The combination rod/marionette puppets are congenially grotesque. Most of the puppets possess rather ugly oversized heads with bulging, piercing eyes. Adam has a Cubist head atop a Giacometti body. Eve is a busty skeleton. When the Devil is out of his smoke-filled throne room, he appears to mortals as merely a head suspended in the air. Four puppeteers make all this happen, and they add corny voices that get frequent chuckles. Susan Haas's puppet costumes are noteworthy for their eclectic composition. Michael Koerner's score for a band of four neatly accompanies the action in vaudeville idiom.
The show has two other components that alternate with the puppets. It is also a theater of objects. Puppeteers' hands reach out from either side of the miniature stage to write words like "deed" or place concept objects like Eve's apple (intact or bit into) on handy ledges. Julian McFaul appears somewhat incongruously framed by the Gothic vaults of Faust's studio. He represents a drunken Everyman wine goblet in hand that is pondering the consequences of his own choices in life.
Minneapolis-based Open Eye Figure Theater has already presented A Prelude to Faust at Walker Art Center. This is the first event in HERE's Dream Music Puppetry Program for the fall season.