Max Berry, Contributing Critic - New York City
Taking the classic story of the ambitious Doctor Faust and presenting it through well-crafted marionettes, the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre gives a more light-hearted and somewhat modern take on the story, with jokes galore and plenty of references to pop culture and the happenings of today.
First and foremost, the puppetry work was stunning. Each character felt as though they were alive and danced and glided across the stage as much as any actor. The puppets interacted in ways that seemed impossible to do without getting strings tangled and yet each movement felt seamless. The movements often took on a very cartoon-like quality to them which lent itself very well to the style of story they were telling.
However, the story itself seemed to focus little on what Faust is actually about, deciding to instead opt for eighty minutes of jokes anywhere from strange physical comedy to referencing “Gangnam Style,” to a sequence where a raw chicken floated around underwater. Most of the time, the jokes went on for far too long, and I found myself waiting for Faust or Mefistofl to return and cause some mischief. These characters that have such a rich history in this story felt like more of a vessel for strange and slow humor than existing with their own wants and needs. Scenes seemed to drag on because they were being held up by the jokes rather than the need for things to progress forward to any conclusion.
Again, I will note that the actual puppetry work was extremely compelling and the puppets well designed. Even the use of scenery was quite creative. Having the puppeteers wear pants painted to look like trees so when the curtain rises they are standing to operate their puppet but also part of the set was an incredibly unique effect and a welcomed addition to the show. The accordion player (Melissa Elledge) was also quite entertaining, often drawing my attention as she made an instrument that I have so seldom enjoyed hearing, sound quite beautiful.
It is clear that “Johannes Dokchtor Faust” is made up of a group of gifted puppeteers. I only wish that the parts of the “Faust” story that they chose to focus on were more of the things that made Faust such a compelling character rather than weaving what felt like far too many jokes into a story that was more than capable of standing on its own without them.
“Johannes Dokchtor Faust” was refashioned from the old Bohemian by Vit Horejs.
Feauturing: Michelle Beshaw, Deborah Beshaw-Farrell, Vit Horejs, Jane Catherine Shaw and Ben Watts
With music by Melissa Elledge
Costumes by Michelle Beshaw
Lghting by Fredrico Restrepo
It presented by Theater For the New City (155 First Avenue, New York NY, 10003)
It runs March 21st-April 7th. Thursday-Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 3PM.
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