The Faust legend, interpreted and reinterpreted
for centuries, is once again receiving a new treatment with "Faust/How
I Rose," which makes its U.S. premiere at BAM’s Harvey Theater
on Nov. 16.
The production is a collaboration of playwright-multimedia artist John Jesurun and Martin Acosta, a theater director based in Mexico City, where "Faust" was originally presented by the National Company of Mexico in 1998.
"I met Acosta back in 1994," Jesurun told GO Brooklyn. "A friend of mine knew people at an art colony upstate. Acosta was on a grant there to write and work. They needed someone who spoke a little Spanish, so they called me." Jesurun, 53, is of Puerto Rican descent.
He and Acosta met at the art colony and "hit it off," said Jesurun. A few months later Jesurun went to Mexico.
"I saw some of [Acosta’s] work. He read some of my plays. ’Faust’ was the first play of mine he read and he was interested in directing it," said Jesurun. "I usually write, direct and design. I totally trust Martin. He’s very involved in the script. He wants to interpret it in a good way."
Faust was not a subject Jesurun was at first eager to tackle when The Builders Association offered him a commission to write a play, but the company’s Swiss backers wanted a "Faust" and offered him a deal so sweet he couldn’t resist.
"I thought [’Faust’] is the last thing on earth I want to write. Who needs another ’Faust’? I said the only way I’ll write this is if you give me what I thought was an exorbitant amount of money. It was a Faustian deal. I thought they would say ’no.’ But they said ’yes,’ so I had to do it."
Jesurun decided if he had to do "Faust" he would do it his own way.
"I took the simple story [of a man who sells his soul to the devil for personal advancement] and attacked it in my own way. [My work] has very little resemblance to the German ’Faust.’ It is really more about the devil than about Faust. It’s sympathetic to the devil. Faust has a friendly, if not a romantic relationship with the devil, who is played by a woman, Monica Dionne. It’s from the devil’s point of view. I would suppose everyone has had the devil’s point of view at one time, because we’re human."
In his new version, Jesurun integrates a set and a shifting series of video projections on moveable screens. Images are projected on the floor and overhead. Sometimes a live camera projects the image of the actors onscreen.
"I work a lot with the idea of the camera and the screen and the actors interacting with the screen," said Jesurun. "There is a lot of that, but it’s mostly images [in ’Faust’]. The actors are so good I didn’t want to clutter it up with interactive media."
Jesurun believes "Faust" is just as relevant today as ever.
"Before Faust was German [the most famous version of the tale was written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe], it was a myth that some people say goes back to the Middle East. It’s an old, old story. I was trying to demystify it and make it more universal."
This version also reflects Jesurun’s Latin heritage.
"There is something of a Latin influence," he said. "In my writing and our outlook, there’s an ironic mixture of comedy and tragedy that has a Latin aspect."
In this way, Jesurun believes his work takes its place in a long tradition of work that uses the magical and the fantastic.
"The scene is where the artist says it is," Jesurun explains. "It throws logic out the window, and you are compelled to believe it. It’s very serious and very playful with ideas."
Despite his original reluctance, the playwright is very happy he did decide to pen this "Faust."
"My ’Faust’ is an international diplomat," said Jesurun. "It is very timely. It’s much more about today and the future, than today and the past."
The Builders Association production of "Faust/How I Rose" runs Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 20 at 7:30 pm at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St. between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene). The Nov. 17 performance is in Spanish without English translation. All other performances are in English. Tickets are $20, $30 and $45. For tickets or more information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.bam.org.