In retrospect, it is not that surprising how easily the Faust story adapts as a Christmas play. It’s just that it had never occurred to me as it did to the Vesturport and Reykjavík City Theatres of Iceland whose FAUST: A LOVE STORY is playing – in English – this weekend at BAM.
Poinsettias greet you at the entrance, and the stage itself is decked out with holiday lights, a twinkling star, and a Christmas tree. The tale told by Marlowe and Goethe from an earlier legend is reframed as the fantasy of a crotchety old actor in a nursing home. The other residents prevail on him to act out the one great role he never played, which turns out to be Faust, who like the old player, seeks meaning at the end of life. Soon there is a half-hearted suicide attempt (shades of It’s A Wonderful Life) and the spirits are stirred (shades of A Christmas Tale). There is a lovely snowfall, and carolers appear, and the Devil and his minions rather than Dickens’ ghosts. There are aerial ballets, and trap doors to Hell, and a great trampoline across which spreads a fine Christmas grotesquerie (this is a vigorous, physically demanding performance by a skilled, charismatic cast). The old actor makes his pact with the Devil, is made young again, and the gift he demands is a chance to sully the pure nurse who cares for him (Greta – the Gretchen of Goethe’s play). With Walpurgisnacht another holiday comes along (shades of The Nightmare Before Christmas), and this strange cruel yule hits its apex. The chastened Faust figure ends penitent on his knees in the final image.
I suppose that FAUST: A LOVE STORY is not for children, or not for most of them, anyway. There is violence, and disturbing imagery, and a moment of lustful disrobing. But it is affirming enough in its message, that love is the ultimate knowledge, but that love is not about the possession of the loved one. Gisli Om Gardarsson has, in any case, directed my kind of Christmas play, and the holiday fantasies of childhood are not absent from it.
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