NOT FAUST, by Gertrude Stein, adapted and directed by Jennifer Tarver, with James Kirchner, Michelle Polak and Raul Tome. Presented by Theatre Extasis at the Great Hall (1087 Queen West). To June 17, Tuesday-Sunday at 8 pm, Sunday matinee 2:30 pm. $15, Sunday matinee pwyc. 504-7529. Rating: NNNN
We descend a staircase with cracked-plaster and peeling-paint walls, avoid a bare light bulb and enter a dark chamber. Above the largely empty stage, a white-lined balcony conceals possible mysteries. Strange machine-like sounds throb in the background, and the ear can also detect a menacing electrical hiss.
That's the start for Not Faust, a tack-sharp take on Gertrude Stein's sometimes incomprehensible play Dr. Faustus Lights The Lights. Director Jennifer Tarver took a fascinating run at the piece in last year's Fringe festival, and now she's come up with her own high-wattage adaptation of the script.
This Faustus (James Kirchner) has sold his soul not for lust, world domination or riches, but rather for the power to create electric light. Now, though, a pair of devils (Michelle Polak and Raul Tome) snipe at him in the guise of dog and boy, disturbing his triumph and his peace of mind. Doubting himself, wondering about the nature of the soul, Faustus finds himself on a hell-bent trajectory.
What more does it mean? That isn't clear, but the blend of metaphysical conundrums, internal rhymes and at times singsong, nonsensical dialogue couldn't have a more exact production than Tarver's. Ben Grossman's soundscape, combining scratchy Beethoven and zapping electrical spurts, keeps the audience on edge. And aided by lighting wiz Jan Komarek, the visuals -- including a ballet of light bulbs -- are striking, as are doppelgänger devils Polak and Tome, ever morphing into each other's locations, characters and energies.
If this version is more cerebral than the steamy, sensual Fringe show, it's no less riveting. And appropriately, the lights take a curtain call with the actors.