By Jeff Ritter
“An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening” must undoubtedly be one of the longest titles for an English language play ever. Ironically, it’s not actually that long of a play.
Joe Hanrahan and David Wassilak performed the show as part of the FAUSTival series at The Monocle in St. Louis’ “The Grove” neighborhood off Kingshighway. The program also included Hanrahan and Wassilak performing “The Hunchback Variations.” Chicago playwright Mickle Maher wrote both plays.
The staging for “Apology/Faustus” was very simple. Wassilak, wearing a nondescript featureless shirt, pants, and sunglasses, entered silently, stared at the audience for a moment through his dark lenses, and sat down on a plain chair. It wasn’t quite as awe-inspiring an entrance as The Undertaker at a WWE event, but it served its purpose.
Hanrahan followed wearing a suit jacket reminiscent of Fruit-Stripe bubblegum. He then launched into what came across as a stream of conscience ramble by Doctor Faustus (I didn’t catch what kind of doctor he actually was) who had sold his soul to the devil long ago for a much longer but not infinite life. Hanrahan’s Faustus addresses Wassilak as Mephistopheles, a demon and agent of Hell waiting to collect Doctor Faustus and bring him to Hell at the appointed time.
Despite the simple set and premise, the show could only succeed with a talent like Joe Hanrahan, one of St. Louis’ premiere storytellers, delivering this seemingly disconnected dialogue with his trademark balance of conviction and Midwestern charm.
As an apology goes, it’s not the best–Faustus isn’t a particularly nice or contrite fellow after all–but there are observations of the human condition and wry humor along with accusatios of Mephistopheles meddling in his affairs to be found in the ramblings of Hanrahan’s doomed doctor. Wassilak’s expressionless, near silent presence lends just enough menace to the scene. The only thing missing was a brief introduction by Rod Serling, smoking at far stage right and reminding us that the devil always gets his due, even in the Twilight Zone.
For the second half of the performance, “The Hunchback Variations,” the feeling was a little less “Twilight Zone” and a little more “Groundhog Day.” Seated at a table littered with various objects are Ludwig Von Beethoven (Hanrahan) and Quasimodo (Wassilak). They are dressed as you would expect each to be, Beethoven in a conservative period coat and Quasimodo in brown pauper garb.
Beethoven introduces them and welcomes the audience to their press conference regarding the “enigmatic sound” from a stage direction found in Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” The scene itself is very short, but is repeated again and again with subtle tweaks. It’s a difficult collaboration as Beethoven is a real person, Quasimodo is a fictional character and both are stone deaf. Hanrahan’s Beethoven is a convivial host, and Wassilak’s hunchback is a sad, tragic character who tries everything from a slide whistle to a whoopie cushion to achieve Chekhov’s enigmatic sound, always to no avail. Each time the scene repeats it somehow gets both funnier and bleaker.
It wasn’t clear if these two plays were performed together because they’re both Mickle Maher pieces, or because “The Hunchback Variations” are Sisyphean in nature and thus tangentially connected as being a Hellish exercise in futility, thus tangentially related to one another through the Devil who isn’t actually present in either. It’s poignant, funny, and bizarre–a rare and worthwhile combination.
The Midnight Theatre Company is participating in the FAUSTival with four other local theatre companies. It started off with Equally Represented Arts presenting “Faust (go down with all the re$t)” in mid-August. The Midnight Company’s “An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening/The Hunchback Variations.” Runs at the Monocle at 4510 Manchester Avenue through September 29, 2018. Theatre Nuevo follows with “whither should I fly” Oct 25 – Nov 10. SATE is next with “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus,” Oct 31 – Nov 17. The FAUSTival closes with Post-Romantics presenting “Doomsday Faust,” Dec 5-8.
The play is presented Sept. 20-22 and 27-29 at The Monocle. For more information on the twin bill with the long name, visit http://www.midnightcompany.com/.