The devil inside
Pierre Brault digs deep to find Dr. Faustus
In the opening scene of Dr. Faustus, the notorious German alchemist is alone in his study. He begins to speak, revealing his dissatisfaction with the limits of his learning and his desire to immerse himself in the dark arts.
The modern audience has no difficulty accepting a sane man talking to himself. We’re accustomed to the soliloquy, the theatrical device that makes us privy to a character’s innermost thoughts. But when Dr. Faustus was first staged, circa 1590, it was revolutionary.
There are several versions of the story of Dr. Faustus, but the one to utilize the soliloquy was written by Christopher Marlowe — classical scholar, atheist, spy and the bad boy of Elizabethan theatre. He was 28 when he was killed in a tavern brawl. It fell to his contemporary, William Shakespeare, to further develop the soliloquy and get all the credit.
In many ways, Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus was utterly conventional for its time. It is the story of a man who made a bargain with the devil — trading his soul for unlimited knowledge. In the tradition of Greek theatre, there is a chorus. And although it espouses some inflammatory ideas, it is not unlike a medieval morality play. Faustus certainly gets his comeuppance.
It is the doctor’s conversations with himself that set Marlowe’s work apart. It is through these that the audience becomes intimately acquainted with Faustus as he reveals himself plagued by doubts, heady with success, or sick with fear.
“ It’s not to advance the plot, it’s to relate the character’s internal monologue,” says Pierre Brault, who plays the title role in the Third Wall Theatre production opening tomorrow at Arts Court.
A soliloquy has its own challenges. “ You really have to go more internal,” says Brault. “ You are looking for empathy and acknowledgement. It’s really about opening up. If it’s done well ( audience members) get pulled right in.”
Brault is accustomed to being alone on stage. He’s the writerperformer behind two very successful one- man shows, Blood on the Moon and Portrait of an Unidentified Man. Dr. Faustus, however, is not a oneman show. Indeed, it could be staged with a cast of thousands, as Faustus travels across Europe, encountering kings, noblemen, demons, good and bad angels, popes and Helen of Troy. ( Leading to the famous line, “ Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?”)
Charles McFarland, who is directing this Third Wall production, says he is treating it as “ a one- character play,” putting the focus on Faustus’ tortured inner thoughts and the “ Socratic dialogue he has with himself.”
There are, however, four other performers in this production. Michael Mancini appears as the demon Mephistophilis and Al Connors, Simon Bradshaw and Stewart Matthews play the remaining characters.
McFarland and Brault undertook an intense study of the text. Cuts were made, compressing Dr. Faustus into 75 minutes. This puts the focus on the doctor’s harrowing internal journey and allows Brault to do what he does best as an actor — talk to himself.