- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

If you want to telegraph wickedness onstage and on-screen, have the character smoke in public. Sell your soul to the devil — piffle. Corrupt a virginal and devout young woman — child’s play. Today, true evil lights up a stogie.

Mephistopheles (Dan Istrate) is a cigar aficionado in Synetic Theater’s uninhibited, punked out and booty-call production that features a supple, youthful cast with runway-worthy physiques and an often goofy, mock horror flick take on the Faust legend.

Adaptor Nathan Weinberger and director Paata Tsikurishvili update Goethe’s moralistic 1775 play to a darkly lush Goth fantasy where the devil’s minions engage in carnal frolics that resemble something out of a Maxim magazine spread, and everyone looks and behaves like refugees from a Sex Pistols or Buzzcocks video.

Never has vice looked so alluring — and aerobic.

Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili goes beyond the usual bumps and grinds, putting the cast through its paces in dance sequences that sometimes recall a frenzied, airborne version of the Kama Sutra and other times are soaringly balletic and controlled meditations on longing and remorse.

There is a defiant seediness to Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili’s set and costumes, almost an anti-ornamentation statement. Faust’s (Greg Marzullo) books and scientific experiments (a nod to 1950s horror films can be seen in the heads and hands floating in glass jars, jumping to life when you least expect it) are piled up on rickety wood tables, and a grimy bathtub and plastic shower curtain dominate the center of the stage. In lieu of a devil’s cauldron, this bathtub serves as the nexus of the action, becoming everything from a passion pit and a flying transport to a sacrificial altar and killing ground in the course of the 80-minute play.

Faust is portrayed as a bookworm, his wool watch cap, Coke bottle glasses and bathrobe suggesting more a street person than a distracted scholar. When Mephistopheles offers knowledge and supremacy in exchange for Faust’s soul, the first order of the day is an extreme makeover, transforming him from geek to poster boy for the Ab Roller.

Drunk with power, Faust espies the lovely, provincial Gretchen (Irina Tsikurishvili) and demands she be in his arms by midnight. Mephistopheles giddily complies, bending the girl to his will and leading Faust in a crash course in seduction.

The scene where Gretchen succumbs to Faust is immaculate and gorgeous, her shining goodness twining around the dark, spasmodic manipulations of Faust. As usual, the stage lights up when Miss Tsikurishvili appears, but here she is perfectly matched by Mr. Marzullo and their coupling is both erotic and marked with sorrow.

Miss Tsikurishvili also excels in the scenes of Gretchen’s downfall, her humiliation and redemption expressively portrayed. Her other equal in physical and emotional proficiency is Mr. Istrate as the devil.

Mr. Istrate has appeared in character parts in other Synetic productions, but in his first major role he displays star quality, giving us a devil who is the ultimate bad boy — impishly funny, craven and completely irresistible.

Those seeking a deeply philosophical, moralistic battle between good and evil, faith and doubt might be disappointed: Synetic’s wanton, fast-moving “Faust” definitely favors sex over substance.

Faust may have bargained his soul, but he seems to be having a fine time of it. “Sin cannot be concealed,” the devil hisses, but you are not entirely convinced.

In today’s beauty-obsessed society, looking good is a cultural manifesto, while being good seems more and more irrelevant.


WHAT: “Faust,” by Goethe, adapted by Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili

WHERE: Synetic Theater at Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 N. Kent St., Arlington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through May 21. At the Kennedy Center June 1 to 18.

TICKETS: $15 to $35

PHONE: 703/824-8060


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