blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A puppet Faust

Since flying back from New Brunswick and Quebec, I've had a wealth of different experiences, not least of which was my attendance yesterday evening at the extraordinary solo performance of Goethe's Faust (Part I), at St. Paul's University.

St. Paul's, originally intended for the "Oblates of Mary Immaculate," is still to some extent a Theology college, and indeed when I arrived (alone in the dark) at the front entrance there was a tall monk on the steps wearing a long skirt and a hood, talking French into a cellphone, but nowadays it is also shares its premises with the Ottawa branch of the Goethe Institut. I know Cristina, the lady who runs the Goethe Institut here, and she had invited me along to the show in the auditorium.

The visiting performer was Bridge Markland from Berlin, a woman who has mastered multiple roles as a high school teacher, translator, drag artist, dancer, children's theatre producer, actor, puppeteer, and performer in variety shows. Not necessarily in that order. She gives "one-woman-transgender-performances" in sex clubs and performances of classical drama by Schiller, Goethe, Kleist, in schools. It seems to me she belongs to the German cabaret tradition of the 1920s and 30s; she'd have been quite at home with those people (I noticed that she used a Brecht-Weill song at one point in her show).

Anyway, what we were watching was Ms. Markland's performance of Faust in the Box:

It was so clever, thoroughly kreativ! (It had taken two years of preparation.) As you can see in the video, she pops in and out of a cuboidal box and dons various dressing-up hats in order to be different characters, although as Mephistopheles, in a very devilish interpretation, she doesn't wear any hat on her bald head. Sometimes, in the scenes where two or three people are interacting, she resorts to glove puppets. For the famous "poodle" scene she unpacked a wind-up dog from a toy shop that stood on its back legs and did somersaults. For the cathedral scene she simply hung a Holy Virgin doll over the side of the box and lit a candle on the floor of the stage. For example.

She knew the play backwards, every line, and her mouth moved to the voice-over reading, a recording by a cast of German actors (collaborators) that came through concealed speakers, the muscles of her face also responding to whichever character was speaking as she "listened" to her puppets saying their lines. Sometimes all we saw were two puppets, as she herself hid in the box below. The most original idea she'd had was to integrate the words of pop songs into the text (she mouthed those too, along to the music), so that, for example, when Gretchen was meeting Faust, we saw the Gretchen character singing and jigging about to Madonna's Like a Virgin, which had the audience in stitches. Sometimes only half a line from a song was used to interrupt the Goethe dialogue––technically it was very well done and a lot of the songs were in English––so that the audience really had to concentrate to work out the allusions.

I was pretty much exhausted at the end, after 80 minutes of this, and so must she have been, but she's used to it. She then took a swig of water and proceeded to solicit questions and comments from the audience, which took another twenty minutes or so. She seems completely bi-lingual, spoke in a mix of German and English. She also performs an English version of Faust-in-the-Box, combining two established translations with some ideas of her own, is doing that in Vermont on the next stage of her tour, and has begun to perform Robbers-in-the-Box too, in various places (her take on Schiller's Die R√§uber). Somebody asked her if she'd be willing to come to Ottawa again to give another of her performances and she answered, "As long as you'll pay for my air fare!" and added, interestingly, that she'd also like a hotel room to herself, because, off stage, she likes to be privat.

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