Zoot Theatre Company navigates a darker, thought-provoking terrain as the puppet/mask troupe presents Christopher Marlowe’s classic comic drama “Dr. Faustus” July 10-21 in the Hale Cloister of the Dayton Art Institute.
The second show in Zoot’s entertaining new summer series dubbed “A Box, Bottle & Play,” “Dr. Faustus,” based on the legend of Faust, is an account of an accomplished man’s critical decision to sell his soul to the devil for knowledge and power.
Published in 1604, 11 years after Marlowe’s death, the play contains one of the most iconic lines in drama — “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships” — and examines damnation, pride, science and the dichotomy of good and evil among other universal elements.
“Marlowe mainstreamed the idea of the deal with the devil as a plot device,” said director Brian McKnight, who is adapting the play to run roughly 90 minutes. “I think ‘Dr. Faustus’ is as good as any of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s plays are so human and ‘Dr. Faustus’ is as well.
“Faustus speaks very highfalutin, he wants everybody to know that he’s educated, and I think that’s part of why we recognize ourselves in him. Also, one of the notions I’m toying with is the idea that Faustus, almost to the very end, in the back of his brain, is contemplating that he’ll be able to get out of his deal before he has to go to hell. But power distracts him for 24 years before finally the night arrives where he hasn’t figured out his master plan.”
McKnight admits “Dr. Faustus” is a “challenging puzzle” to stage, but he welcomes the outdoor format, which he feels suits the play’s personality and the puppetry component heightening the overall intimacy of the experience.
“The ideal way to do ‘Dr. Faustus’ in the summertime would be around a campfire,” he said. “But the idea of this play as a summer nighttime story is still very cool. I’m hoping audiences will not see the show as a summertime downer but be drawn in by the material. ‘Dr. Faustus’ is not a horror story but it is spooky. Even so, there are hilarious moments in the play. The genius of Marlowe is that he provides some light with the dark.”
The cast of “Dr. Faustus” will feature Matthew L. Harding in the title role and include Cameron Blakenship, Darren Brown, Mathys Herbert and Anita Hill in multiple roles. In particular, Blankenship and Brown, who respectively appeared last month as Robin Goodfellow and Demetrius in Zoot’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” will portray the key roles of Mephistophilis and Lucifer.
“I’m such a big fan of Zoot and I’m excited to be working with them because they are doing something no one else is doing,” said McKnight. “Actor, story and audience is essential, but if you can’t be engaged the special effects and razzle dazzle doesn’t matter.
“I like stripping theater down to its humanity. Marlowe was very human and the poetry in this play is great.”
How to Go
What: “Dr. Faustus”
Where: Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton
When: July 10-21; Wednesdays at 1 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m.
Ticket price: $20
Food and drink prices: Food: $10/person; Bottle of wine: $15/person
FYI: Groups of 10 or more receive a 20 percent discount; Tweet seats, which doesn’t include food and drink purchase, are also available at matinees for $10, but patrons must promise to tweet or post comments about the production on Facebook.
More info: Call (937) 512-0140 or visit www.zoottheatrecompany.org