Theater review:'Doctor Faustus'

The Doctor Faustus of Christopher Marlowe's play sought all the pleasures and knowledge that mortal life could offer. Quintessence Theatre's production equals his quest by showing all the magic that a tremendous cast and imaginative staging can provide.

In Marlowe's version of the Faust legend, mere book knowledge of medicine, law and theology prove unsatisfactory for Doctor Faustus (Gregory Isaac), the era's greatest mind.

So Faustus signs a pact with Lucifer (John Basiulis, excellent across multiple roles): Give me 24 years of life with Mephistopheles (a charismatic devil in Josh Carpenter) as my personal servant, to indulge in earthly pleasures, explore the solar system, and seek power. It's every academic's simultaneous fantasy and nightmare, which Quintessence depicts as a tableau of splendors, invoking reality television and the Matrix in what ultimately serves as a parable for excess that leads to damnation.

Director Alexander Burns achieves the remarkable feat of updating this 1593 play for modern eyes and ears, with an enthralling pace and movement choreography that entrances. The trap doors in his sloped set serve as portals to hell (and one humorous gag), which Brian Sidney Bembridge's lighting and a few simple props carve into a world of shadows and multiple locales.

Jane Casanave costumes the cast in modern dress: Mephistopheles struts about in a motorcycle jacket, Gluttony (Aaron Kirkpatrick) sports an Eagles jersey (to no shortage of laughter), while a chiseled Alan Brincks wears vines and a little leather armor as the Good Angel that attempts to redeem Faustus' soul, and Leigh Kato rocks a black corset as the Evil Angel that damns him.

Burns manages to include a few techno-fueled rave scenes, which work in a tolerable way (and would be more so if he didn't return to this device to the point of tiresomeness). And like the rotating production of Saint Joan, the actors drive the success of this production. Sean Close and Ife Foy delight in multiple roles and Andrew Betz's performance interlaces humor as the dim-witted Robin, who steals Faustus' books to conjure his own demonic servants (that itself invokes another Keanu Reeves role from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure).

Isaac's Faustus performance begins humble and frustrated, and by turns of his newfound power, turns devilishly charming and pitiably unrepentant. Through his performance, Quintessence's staging creates a life cycle, bookended by scenes filled with fraternal affection. If this echo of Epicurus (the founder of hedonism) in Marlowe's play acknowledges friendship as the chief of earthly pleasures, then watching performances like Quintessence's Doctor Faustus and Saint Joan certainly stands a close second.