- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The devil in “Temptation” is not a red fellow with horns, but dogma. Czech playwright-politician Vaclav Havel’s 1985 play is an adaptation of the Faust legend that suggests repression and the regulation of ideas are the real moral enemies of humanity and that a demon who encourages independent pondering of the deep questions is working for good, not evil.

The play was written when the former first president of the Czech Republic and leader of the Velvet Revolution was imprisoned and handed versions of Faust written by Goethe, Thomas Mann and Christopher Marlowe. This reading material drew Mr. Havel to the Faustian themes of diabolical persuasion and selling one’s soul for the purpose of greater knowledge and power.

Produced by the Constellation Theatre Company as an absurdist stew of dance and sexual tension under the direction of Allison Arkell Stockman, “Temptation” is set in a vaguely communist country and in the hermetically sealed environment of the Science Institute (a superbly sterile vision by designer A.J. Guban, a white and shiny silver space punctuated with splashes of acid green), a place where superstition and fantastic thinking is verboten.

The rest of the white-coated staff seems content with the setup - except for Dr. Foustka (Nick DePinto), a curious scientist who is plagued by the unscientific emotions of jealousy and passion. In private, Dr. Foustka begins subversive experiments in the dark arts and thinks he has conjured one of Lucifer’s minions when a mysterious (and stinky) stranger, Fistula (Frank Britton), shows up.

By the end, Dr. Foustka’s deft corruptions of facts and his doublespeaking of the truth have betrayed not only his vocation, but more urgently, he has duped himself. His demonic pact did not result in godlike insights, but puny self-deception.

This being a Vaclav Havel play, there is ample long-winded pontificating and philosophizing. At times, “Temptation” sags under the stress of so much verbiage. Miss Stockman tries to get around the density through stylized movement and slinky dance steps, with some cast members more adept than others.

The play’s repetition should be mesmerizing, but instead it’s deadening because no new insights are revealed. By the time of the third garden party thrown by the creepy Institute Director (Jesse Terrill), you’ve pretty much had it - and the same can be said for the sadistic and violent role-playing games hatched by Dr. Foustka and his kittenish mistress, Vilma (Heather Haney).

Science versus magic is an old argument, and it isn’t getting any fresher in Constellation’s colorful, but often confounding production. It does, however, contain one major thing in its favor: a quirky, outlandish and completely riveting performance by Frank Britton as the palsied and aged Fistula. There’s a strange, shamanistic grace to his jerky, hesitant movements, and you can’t take your eyes off him.

WHAT: “Temptation,” by Vaclav Havel

WHERE: Constellation Theatre Company at Source Theatre Company, 1835 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 9.

TICKETS: $15 to $20

PHONE: 800/494-8497

WEB SITE: www.constellationtheatre.org


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