June 18, 2015

Psst, Mephistopheles, are you still around, making deals on behalf of the Devil? Promise to give me back the two hours I spent enduring the Classic Stage Company’s misguided production of Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” and maybe we can come to an agreement. Eternal damnation doesn’t seem all that bothersome if my memories of this show, starring Chris Noth as the titular soul seller and Zach Grenier as Mephistopheles, can be permanently erased. The production, directed by the veteran Andrei Belgrader, employs a heavily adapted text by David Bridel and Mr. Belgrader. Language has been modernized: “thou” becoming “you” and “hath” becoming “has,” etc. Characters have been tweaked or eliminated, speeches curtailed. Some innovations are helpful, such as having Wagner (Walker Jones), Doctor Faustus’s loyal assistant, pipe up with translations of the Latin that Marlowe sprinkled through the text. Others, not so much. This updated colloquial comedy is not an improvement on the original. (And if thou cannot improve on centuries-old comedy, thou art in trouble.) But, in general, the emendations and cuts are not particularly detrimental to the drama, since there isn’t much in the first place. “Doctor Faustus” is not a text of particular sanctity; it’s rarely performed, and rather than a “tragical history,” as it was called, the play is more a moral (or rather amoral) pageant depicting the title character romping through the world, causing mischief after making that famous pact with the Devil.