Last March, we interviewed Kathe Koja, successful novelist, playwright and enthusiastic Michigan resident. At that time, Koja and company were busy rewriting the rules of performance art with “Under the Poppy,” an interactive, modular dramatization of her amazing novel by the name same. Now Koja and Loudermilk Productions are back with “Faustus,” which will be staged in the sanctuary of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Detroit, adjacent to the WSU campus, November 15 – 23, 2013.
There have been a number of interpretations of the Faust legend, including Thomas Mann’s novel “Dr. Faustus,” and the wonderful Gounod opera, “Faust.” But best known is probably Christopher Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus.” This adaptation was a collaboration between Kathe Koja and Steve Xander Carson, and we were delighted that they and the cast took time out to provide a few more juicy details.
Q. Do you consider this an adaptation of Marlowe, or an original work, or something in between? Do you use Marlowe¹s original lines?
Steve Xander Carson: Our production is an adaptation of Marlowe's script presented in an original way. The text is entirely his writing, we even added a few lines from his other works ("Jew of Malta," "Tamburlaine," "Hero & Leander" and "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"). Our script focuses on Faustus' descent, if you want to call it that. We cut any extraneous characters to our story, leaving the Sins, Mephistopheles, and Faustus in order to more vividly depict his rise and fall. Like Faustus, it's relentless.
Kathe Koja: Steve and I went through the play's text separately, to see if and where any changes might be made. When we got together again, we saw that we'd chosen all the same cuts, and the story had become even more fleet and tense, while losing nothing of Marlowe's beauty, terror, and powerfully poetic language.
Q: Cast member challenge – tell us who you play in “Faustus” and describe your character in just three words.
Laura Bailey, Sin Wrath: Calculating, tyrannical, explosive.
Jonathan West, Sin Lust: Pleasure beyond measure.
Vanessa Ellen Hentschel, Sin Sloth: Apathetic, dirty, listless.
Samantha Erin Moltmaker, Sin Envy: Hatred, desire, obsession.
Chris Jakob, Mephistopheles: Mischievous, inhuman, seductive.
Steve Xander Carson, Faustus: Audacious, zealous, clever.
Q: Without invoking spoiler alerts, what about this production will surprise/intrigue people familiar with the Faust story?
Kathy Koja: What ultimately happens is no surprise: Faustus sells his soul, we know that going in. But inviting the audience into the pews of a church sanctuary, and surrounding them with the Deadly Sins – literally – is our way of offering them Faustus' own experience, so they see what he sees, and feel what he feels, they're not just sitting passively behind the fourth wall and watching till it's over. And the more willing they are to go with that experience, the better the journey will be.
Q: What do you tell people who are intimidated by the reputation of Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” to interest them in your show? (Do you think your show is more accessible than the original Marlowe script?)
Kathy Koja: "Faustus" is really universal: everyone has been tempted; everyone knows what it's like to reach for things we shouldn't have. So Faustus is Everyman, he's all of us.
I'm not so sure what would intimidate an audience – the language is gorgeous, but it's definitely a clear and accessible story. Unless it's the legend that in some performances, the actors found one devil too many on the stage? It's true, we do use the original Latin conjuring format . . .
Q: Given the subject matter, we assume this play is pretty sinister. Is there any comic relief?
Kathy Koja: The full range of human emotions – and some inhuman ones – will definitely be displayed.
Q: You are staging this at the Universalist Unitarian church near the Hilberry Theatre. How did that come about? It seems ironic, or do you see this as a morality play of sorts?
Kathy Koja: We're incredibly fortunate to partner with the UU Church. In site-specific performances, the venue is so much more than just the place where the show happens, it's a character in that show. For "Faustus," a church was the natural setting for the story, so I originally contacted the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit's film office, to see if one of their many empty churches might be available; they made it plain they weren't interested in our production. Then Vanessa Hentschel, a member of our ensemble, suggested the Unitarian Church in midtown – I spoke to them right away, and "Faustus" had found its home.
Our production's really been embraced by the UU community. The church's amazing organist, Todd Ballou, will be playing the glorious 1900's-era pipe organ for our performances – we're beyond thrilled to have Todd involved. And Rev. Roger Mohr will be giving a "Faustus" message at the 11/17 11 a.m. service. And the sanctuary itself, with its beauty, shadows, and echoes, is a fantastic place to play.
Q: Your poster for “Faustus” quotes Marlowe’s "Jew of Malta" “there is no sin but ignorance.” Would your Faustus character agree with this? Even to the point of damnation? Would he equate innocence and ignorance?
Kathy Koja: Definitely yes to the first – he believes that "sin" is just another word for "choice," and to remain ignorant of that is a willful ignorance, like shrugging and saying "Gosh, the Devil made me do it."
But no to the second: he's a learned guy, he knows that innocence is innate, and ignorance is a condition – you can always get smarter. Especially if you go to school in Hell.
Q: What is it about this production that pleases you the most?
Kathy Koja: To bring Marlowe's play to a contemporary audience, to send his unforgettable words back into the world this way. And to work with our fearless and creative ensemble – no other word will do, they are badass.
We can’t wait. Mark your calendars now – Loudermilk Productions presentation of “Faustus,” which will be staged in the sanctuary of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Detroit, 4605 Cass Avenue, November 15 – 16, and 21-23 – with all shows at 9 p.m. Tickets are $26 and can be purchased on a presale basis only – not at the door. Visit the website for more details or email email@example.com. Only persons 18 or older will be admitted.