Dealing with the devil

There’s one Mephistopheles in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. But for the Montford Park Player’s upcoming performances, two very different actors will share the role of Lucifer’s servant: local luminary David Hopes, and 11-year-old Amy Daugherty.

Surrounded by sin: The cast of Doctor Faustus. Photo By William Lawrence

The two will play the role on alternate weekends.

“It’s easier to play the overconfident Faustus with little Amy, who is less credible of a demonic presence,” says David Mycoff, the play’s Doctor Faustus and a professor of Renaissance and medieval literature at Warren Wilson College. “However, the notion that evil often presents itself with a face of innocence works extremely well.”

Doctor Faustus is a tale of intrigue, magic and the corrupting influence of power—the story of a brilliant scholar who makes a deadly bargain with the devil.

“John Faustus is interested in knowing more than is humanly possible, and is willing to embrace the dark arts in order to do so,” says Jason Williams, the play’s director.

Bored with his studies, Faustus borrows a book of magical spells from an acquaintance and summons Mephistopheles into his chambers. There, Mephistopheles makes Faustus an offer he can’t refuse.

Striking a deal with the devil, Faustus sells his soul in exchange for 24 years of unlimited power, with Mephistopheles working as his own personal assistant throughout that time. The agreement is signed with Faustus’ crimson blood.

“Faustus has the ability to do anything, good or evil, but the tragic part is that he does nothing of consequence,” Williams says. “He plays tricks on people and boxes the Pope in the head. He has the power to make the world a better place, but he doesn’t, [instead] he concentrates on pleasure itself.”

As time runs to an end, Faustus performs his most impressive act of magic, and his final act of selfishness.

“He summons Helen of Troy, thought to be the most beautiful woman who walked the earth, and takes her [as a lover] for the night,” Williams says. Before dawn breaks, Mephistopheles and Lucifer come to claim their reward.

In Doctor Faustus, the play’s language is wonderfully illustrative. “The story of Faustus is a tragedy of human contradiction, which registers in the language itself; oscillating between some of the most glorious language written for the English-speaking stage and that of a slapstick farce, like the Three Stooges,” Mycoff says. “Faustus, in the moment, embraces both sides with huge gusto. In the middle of a practical joke, he turns to the audience and says, ‘What art thou Faustus but a man condemned?’ He is powerfully intelligent and can envision all the wonderful things he could do or be, yet he see himself squandering them.”

Embodying a manic character like Faustus isn’t easy. However, Mycoff says he’s up to the challenge.

“Much of the creative process is working with sound, rhythm and the structure of the play’s heightened language,” he says. “I work from outside in to bring these words into dramatic action. If you trust it, the language will take you where to go.”

To bring the magical elements of this play to life, Williams took counsel from a local magician, working to teach his 24-member cast the basic principles of distraction and sleight of hand.

The cast will be clad in medieval-style costumes, and will wear colorful masks representing the seven deadly sins. The stage will be modeled after 14th-century illustrations of mansions, which “represent different places in the Bible, like the gates of Jerusalem, [the gates of] heaven, purgatory or the mouth of hell. And, we have got to have the hell mouth in this play,” says Williams with a grin.

At the height of the English Renaissance, Marlowe authored some of the most popular plays set to the stage, with language said to tantalize audiences of all classes and education.

Unfortunately, Marlowe died at age 24, leaving a small body of work that was eclipsed by his contemporary, Shakespeare. Today, Marlowe’s plays are rarely performed outside of professional theater companies.
“This is an exciting show for the Montford Park Players,” Williams notes. “It offers great language by a playwright who tragically died before his talent was realized.”

what: The Montford Park Players presents Doctor Faustus
where: Hazel Robinson Ampitheatre in Montford
when: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Sept. 5 through 28. 7:30 p.m. (Free. or 254-5146)


About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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