MEPHISTO adapted by Ariane Mnouchkine from the novel by Klaus Mann, directed by Bruce Alexander Pitkin, with Peter Van Wart, David Petrie, Araxi Arslanian, Catherine McGregor, Steven Jennings and Deborah Hay. Presented by Equity Showcase at the Harbourfront Studio Theatre (235 Queen's Quay West). Runs to November 18, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. Pwyc ($10 suggested). 416-533-9231.
investigating the role of theatre and the theatre artist in society, Klaus Mann's novel Mephisto takes a stark look at human naivete and corruptibility. Adapted for the stage by Ariane Mnouchkine and translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker, Mephisto -- set in Germany in the 20s and 30s -- uses the stage itself as a metaphor for the roles we play, both for ourselves and others.Keeping the 20 actors onstage for the whole show, director Bruce Pitkin draws attention to the work's theatricality. In addition to the "real" episodes, the script mixes in satiric, cartoon-like cabaret sketches, scenes from Goethe's Faust and a marvellous use of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard to echo a culture's demise. Unlike the award-winning film version, the play doesn't focus immediately on Hendrik Hofgen, the left-leaning actor who sells his soul for artistic and political power under the Nazis.
Pitkin effectively points up the German working class's discontent and the ingenuousness of the theatre people, many of them Communists, who can't believe that the National Socialists could gain power. Although the first act is slow, the second increases in intensity until its chilling end.Where this big, ambitious production falls down is in the acting; there are too many underpowered performances. The best work comes from the imposing Araxi Arslanian, who carves out her focused Theresa with a razor blade, Deborah Hay's savvy Nicoletta, Steven Jennings's cabaret work as the stalwart Communist Otto, Catherine McGregor's Myriam, a Jewish actor loyal to herself and her director husband, and Peter Van Wart's ambitious Hendrik, who uses all his charm and seductiveness to rise to the top of a moral shit pile.