Insurgo’s ‘Faustus’ accessible, often riveting

Christopher Marlowe’s "The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus" — adapted by director Brendon McClenahan under the title "Faustus" — has a strong underbelly of traditional Catholicsm. It’s not about Catholicism (except maybe for a "shocking" moment when our title character plays nasty tricks on the pope), but it has the feel of a pre-Second Vatican Council Mass: incense, Gregorian chants, a confessional-cubicle atmosphere.

Insurgo’s production offers an accessible look at an Elizabethan classic. If you don’t know the script, it may take a little patience to figure out what’s going on. But once the story unfolds — once we realize why Faustus is willing to sell his soul to the devil, and why he chooses not to repent (even though he’s told by an angel that he has until the moment of death to do so) — the production is often riveting.

Gary Lunn is near-perfect playing an insatiable intellectual (the kind the Bible warned us about) who now wants not just sexual fulfillment but answers to the impossible questions. (He starts with "Who made the world?" and goes downhill from there.) Lunn comes across as a textbook-brilliant man, and it doesn’t hurt that his speaking voice sounds Royal Shakespeare Company-trained. He gets beyond the language (while still respecting its rhythms) and lives inside the character’s skin.

The 17-member cast has its standouts, most notably Natascha Negro who brings subtlety and elegance to her portrayals of an angel and queen.

The introduction of the seven deadly sins is particularly well-staged and funny, even though it stings a bit. Too many hit home.

As usual, Insurgo’s set (McClenahan), lights (uncredited), costumes (Shaily Harris and Genna Stock) and sound (Sandy Stein) transform a small stage into a broad canvas. And Jeanna Wurtzberger’s choreography is equal parts terror and humor.

The second act could use some trimming in directorial comment, and some of the actors overuse scratchy shrieks that occasionally make you concerned for their vocal cords.

But McClenahan gets at the heart of this brilliant play. He delivers an entertaining, probing treatise on heaven and hell. The production provokes thought.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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