If you’ve ever had the burning desire to hear the phrase “Ow, my balls!” uttered at NYC’s Classic Stage Company, the wait is over. (That colloquialism, by the way, also happens to the name of the biggest TV hit in America in Mike Judge’s sadly underrated satire Idiocracy, so take that however you like.) Doctor Faustus, the newest offering from CSC running through July 12, is a reimagining of the classic story of the titular necromancer (played here by The Good Wife’s Chris Noth) who, via a pact written in his own blood, sells his soul to a certain someone in order to achieve supernatural powers and all-knowing prowess, but only for a limited time.
The ‘reimagined’ part here, however, is seemingly by way of Dane Cook, as director Andrei Belgrader and co-adaptor David Bridel steer the material from a somber meditation on greed and mortality into really broad commedia dell’arte territory almost immediately, except the intended laughs are never quite there, much like the outcome of one of Mr. Cook’s stand-ups, incidentally. Faustus, with the guidance of the hunched Mephistopheles (Zach Grenier, also a Good Wife regular), gets to partake in a series of adventures, including invisibility (where he swipes food from royals), flight (as the duo hover over the Vatican in a particularly ill-advised use of puppetry), and laying witness to a floor show of the Seven Deadly Sins, which plays like a roofied version of “Rose Tint My World/Wild and Untamed Thing” from The Rocky Horror Show, only without the groovy Richard O’Brien tunes.
And for those who feel that audience participation is the Devil incarnate, Faustus does not leave people off the hook in that way either, whether it is Grenier’s Mephistopheles snorting in your face, or women being brought on stage for a spell that causes clothing to be shed for a pair of fools in the narrative, played bravely by Ken Cheeseman and Lucas Caleb Rooney. (The woman at my show, alas, did not budge.)
But does any of this work? Hell no. (Pun intended.) But as is often the case with any kind of trainwreck theater, the brazen up-yours to convention becomes a sort of alluring pageantry in itself, however wrongheaded much of it is. One just wishes someone told Noth—outfitted and eye-shadowed to a point where he nearly resembles Christian Borle’s Tony-winning Bard in Something Rotten!—who seems to be doing the same jut-jawed straight-man act we’ve seen for years now. (Come on, man–get in on the silliness!) Getting through this Doctor Faustus might be your own personal deal with the Devil in many ways, but I’d be a damned liar if I said I was ever bored by a moment of it. C