'Faust' a devilish deal audiences will love to make
By Aja Romano ,
In his program notes, Eric Pfeffinger, the writer of Life in the Faust Lane, apologizes to the audience if he has accidentally managed to write a profound social commentary instead of a rollicking sex farce. Fortunately, the hilarious antics ofLife in the Faust Lane, playing for one more blessed weekend at the Bloomington Playwrights Project, are both funny enough to appeal to everyone, and intelligent enough to satisfy even the most pedantic of scholars seeking a modern update of the Faust myth.
If, however, a Faustian study is what you're looking for in this show, it's possible you could be just the sort of academic personality the play seeks to ridicule-- though there are few things it does not seek to ridicule. The story is basic enough: A misguided graduate assistant's encounter with a mysterious stranger leads him down the path of self-destruction (or at least self-gratification-- and lots of it). Along the way he has to contend with various unexpected disasters, involving (but not limited to): evil professors, Internet porn junkies, contracts with the devil, falling in love, a run-in with Helen of Troy and ferocious tiny yippy dogs.
The superb satirical efforts of well-known local playwright Pfeffinger are in top form here, and nothing is too sacred for his pen to skewer; jabs at the usual academic issues -- religion, political correctness, feminist politics---are all present and accounted for, but so are barbs at pop culture markers, from Britney Spears to L.L. Bean and Chuck E. Cheese.
The laughs are non-stop, and in a perfect unity of writing, acting and direction, the comic timing and delivery is so smooth and precise, that the show's pace is flawless. The laugh-a-minute success of Faust Lane is such that it keeps you engrossed for its entirety, and while this humor may not age well, in the moment this contemporary parody is near-perfect.
This is partly due to the excellent efforts of the ensemble cast. As the frazzled, frenetic and frustrated graduate assistant Irwin Wagner, Matt Holzfeind is sterling. Kathryn McRay is just the right mix of perky and annoying as his idealistic girlfriend Gretchen. Breshaun-Birene Joyner is perfect as the cool, creepy, calculating Dr. Ursula Faust, and her deadpan delivery is matched only by Brian G. Hartz's deep-toned sang-froid. Hartz crowns his regrettably short-lived career with the BPP with his role as the bemused, suave Mephistopheles. He is a master of comic timing, and he and Holzfeind have a chemistry and talent that make their shared stage time the best of the performance.
Everyone, from the conniving Faust to the dubiously named "Marie," imbue their roles with a craft and liveliness that renders every character memorable--and makes the show a complete success. Yet the play really belongs to Holzfeind's Wagner. Irrepressible and winning, he charms his way through the show, rendering even the most inane lines full of humor. Although the ensemble in Faust Lane is one of the strongest casting jobs of the season, Holzfeind's sterling ability to delivers non-stop comedic flair that succeeds without once managing to be over the top deserves all sorts of attention.
In fact,Faust Lane itself deserves all sorts of attention, and to miss out on this, the final offering from the BPP in its 22nd season, would be to miss what is easily one of the finest shows of the year--certainly one of the finest shows written and produced locally. Plot, pacing and parody combine in one hysterical play, and between the hilarious one-liners and quips ("I'm trapped in a long episode of 'Touched by an Antichrist!'") and Scot Grenwell's seamless direction, it's really, really difficult to find anything to criticize. Even the set is perfect in its recreation of a hot musty teachers' office at a certain major university.
If you enjoy no-holds-barred humor, or plays where nothing is sacred, from Goethe to the hilarious visualizations of idealistic graduate students, thenLife in the Faust Lane is the must-see comedy of the summer. Pfeffinger has written a play everyone from high school students to wizened professors will love: a play remarkable for the collective talent of its cast, its hectic, superb pacing, and impeccable, lighthearted sense of humor.
Here in the heart of academia, where "Riches and Power aren't really a priority," there isn't much more you can ask for than that.