During the Winter of 2009, The Midnight Company continued to search for appropriate scripts. Sarah Whitney and I reviewed and read quite a number (including a few that will no doubt raise their heads again in the near future.) A late summer flirtation in August of that year with the new Herbie’s (the old Balaban’s) concerning a show in their small basement space (where Midnight had performed
ST. NICHOLAS and Thom Pain) had shifted some focus back to one-man shows.
And then a periodic check of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck’s website revealed a
Mickle Maher script (of course, Mickle authored Midnight’s earlier hit, THE HUNCHBACK VARIATIONS) about John Faustus that had been a major hit in Chicago
that past fall. The small cast, the unusual nature of the script, and Maher’s talent made it seem a necessity to look over.
Joe followed up tentatively with Mickle (playwrights are often protective of new scripts).
But Mickle responded enthusiastically with the possibility of Joe playing Faustus, and promptly sent a script down.
Joe was surprised to see it part of the book including the 10-year old HUNCHBACK show. AN APOLOGY For The Course And Outcome Of Certain Events Delivered By DOCTOR JOHN FAUSTUS On This His Final Evening (henceforth called AN APOLOGY) was also about 10 years old, and the recently closed hit had been a revival
Much as Joe had ignored Conor McPherson’s A GOOD THIEF when concentrating on
ST. NICHOLAS (though both were in the same volume), he couldn’t remember glancing at AN APOLOGY when Midnight was producing HUNCHBACK. And much like
A GOOD THIEF, Joe loved AN APOLOGY.
As did Sarah Whitney. And she and Joe embarked on a great journey with the play, learning and understanding it, learning how to present it.
Joe’s son, Travis, was pulled into the cast as Mephistopheles (on stage, on a stool, as the house opens, and on that stool throughout the show – a tough, tough role.) Some jockeying of possible spaces ensued, which delayed proposed openings, but things
settled as Midnight settled into the upstairs space at Dressel’s Pub (where they’d presented THE GOOD THIEF.)
The run was a challenging one. Every theatre in town seemed to be presenting in
June – from HAMLET in the park to Isaac Mizrahi directing at Opera Theatre to big river musicals to Stages to circuses to classic revivals – you literally can almost name it.
So audiences weren’t what was hoped for, but every audience was riveted, watching the final hour of Faustus’ tumultuous life spill forth.
And it was a joy to perform Maher’s language and ideas, and most critics agreed.
(A highlight of the run was Travis’ 21st birthday on a performance night, and special
recognition from that night’s audience.)
Dr. John Faustus (Joe Hanrahan) wants to set the record straight on the circumstances of his life. A lean 70-minute monologue covers it, and Faustus tells us he is sorry for the “long-winded” chroniclers of his story in drama and opera. He might also note the length of this title, though saying it would tack on a couple more minutes. Here goes: An Apology For The Course And Outcome Of Certain Events Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening.
The show has no set, rather it takes place in a setting: the upstairs room at Dressel's Pub. It's appropriate. Upon entering, we see a figure dressed in black (including Converse sneakers). He wears an eerie white mask and perches silently on a stool. As we choose seats and get settled, he is watching. As Faustus enters from the back of the room carrying a large, weathered leather-bound book, he is watching. As Faustus struggles with the only real prop, an electric lamp, he is watching. As he always does. As he has been doing for the past 24 years, for this is Mephistopheles (Travis Hanrahan), prince of Hell and the servant of Faustus, soon to be his master for eternity.
The story is familiar to most: Dr John Faustus sold his soul to the Devil for 24 years of wealth and power. He could time-travel to experience the whole of life through the ages. When he wanted to sleep with the most beautiful woman in the world, he got Helen of Troy. Everything was just peachy until he woke up one morning to find Mephistopheles perching at the foot of Faustus' bed (as always), peeling a hardboiled egg (as always) and reading Faustus journal (as always). As Faustus comes awake, he realizes what day it is, and rather than spend it in contemplation, he tells us he chooses to explain himself to a few random people gathered in a room, and that would be us. The audience is thus drawn in as a part of the proceedings, not just observers of it. As soon as he entered, in fact, he reversed the “gaze,” turning it on us muttering “Now” from time to time. He makes eye contact, he lingers on a face, but he doesn't break the fourth wall because it is never there.
Faustus begins by talking about his journal—the aforementioned book—which has nothing in it but hatch marks. He says they have no meaning because he doesn't want Mephistopheles privy to his thoughts, as well as owning his soul. The Devil may have Faustus, but he will not know him: “And if hell will not know Faustus, how will Faustus know hell?”He claims the marks mean nothing, but in their lack of meaning, meaning lies; they represent the very hoof prints of the demon. The first day he caught Mephistopheles perusing his diary, he ripped up the page and, literally, ate his words. When he begins his monologue with “Why not shut up,” it is a courageous act because there is the danger than we might think that too, but we don't. Or at least I didn't. I was fascinated with this modern incarnation of the iconic figure, now in modern dress with a large red watch he keeps checking throughout, as he tell his story because time is, of course, of the essence.
He talks about the development of language, the nature of the “apology” (a strictly human invention) and the world contained “in the devil's hump.” He enjoins us to drink with him, as he produces cans of “The King” (Budweiser) and delivers a funny riff on 7-11 stores. And time inexorably marches on. For Faustus. For us. Playwright Mickle Maher and director Sarah Whitney have found the essence of Faustus, and Hanrahan is a mesmerizing interpreter of the dialectical tension of his suspension between two worlds at the very edge of the abyss. For those interested in fringe theatre, this is an opportunity to check out a thoughtful, funny and occasionally profound evening with the not-so-good doctor.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
If you had just one more hour to live, how would you spend it? Saying goodbyes to loved ones? Enjoying a favorite meal? Making peace with enemies?
Not John Faustus.
In Mickle Maher’s “An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on this His Final Evening,” staged by the Midnight Company, Faustus fritters away his final hour explaining to a roomful of randomly assembled strangers — the audience, sitting on hard benches in the upstairs space at Dressel’s Pub — why his diary contains no actual documentation of his life.
Instead, its pages are filled with hash marks — the sort prisoners make on their cell walls to count the days.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show’s source material, the 15th-century legend of Faust, where have you been? The story of the doctor who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 24 years of wealth, time travel and power has been the basis for countless works of music, opera, theater, poetry and fiction. At the culmination of 24 years, Faustus is whisked away to Hades.
In the Midnight Company production, artistic director Joe Hanrahan plays the aloof academic Faustus with conviction and plenty of energy, though his monologue in what amounts to a one-man show isn’t always completely engaging.
Travis Hanrahan is Mephistopheles, the prince of Hell who’s been Faustus’ servant these 24 years. Wearing an eerie, white mask that gives us only a glimpse at his eyes, he sits silently on a stool behind Faustus, occasionally shifting in his seat or tilting his head.
The Midnight Company excels at producing theater outside of the traditional theater setting. But in this situation, a more theatrical treatment — lighting that suggests a more foreboding mood, perhaps — may have helped to establish a clearer focus.
“Apology,” directed by Sarah Whitney, is mostly insightful, often clever and sometimes plain weird. But making yourself familiar with Faust’s story ahead of time (and packing a seat cushion) isn’t a bad idea.
An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening Twenty-four years after he struck his infamous bargain with the Devil, Faustus spends his final hour of life not by indulging in one last round of carnal pleasures or even in recalling the untold wealth that came his way, but rather by grousing to a group of strangers, as he puts it, "about nothing in particular." With a mesmerizing desperation, his imprisoned soul rants on about how misunderstood he is; every word of the books, plays, movies and operas that have told the Faustus story, he assures us, is bogus; what we're hearing now is the nonsensical truth. Mickle Maher's quirky play spews 60 minutes of avant-garde eccentricity. Faustus — condemned, fatalistic yet still able to summon forth flashes of flourish — is the latest in a series of Joe Hanrahan's portrayals of characters hovering at death's door with a need to recount. Faustus takes that need to another dimension by also needing to apologize. For what? You had best interpret that one for yourself. Directed by Sarah Whitney and performed by the Midnight Company .
Joe Hanrahan has a special place in the St. Louis theater world. As the founder, artistic director and half the company of the Midnight Company, he performs the roles he wants where and when he wants to do them. Thankfully, while Hanrahan often works in mysterious ways, he always offers something interesting and thought-provoking. Sometimes one thinks about a Hanrahan production for a few days, sometimes only a few minutes, but one walks from the theater with new thoughts, or a new response to some old ones.
The short, quizzical-looking Hanrahan is currently appearing in, "An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on this his Final Evening," appearing through June 24 in a small room upstairs above Dressel's Pub in the Central West End.
As we remember--or should--Faustus traded his soul to the Devil for a life of luxury and the want for nothing, but Mephistopheles has been sitting on the doctor's bed every night for 24 years, and tonight is time for Faustus to keep his part of the bargain. A silent, masked Mephistopheles, portrayed by Travis Hanrahan, is sitting on a stool when the audience files into the small room and he remains there through the 70-minute play, dressed all in black, including high-top sneakers, and wearing a white mask.
The space is small, with neither stage nor set, but Hanrahan knows how to work his room, though a little real lighting would have helped. He does not reflect about having made the deal, but he is angry that his privacy has been violated, his diary read. He carries the beaten-up book, its pages covered by markings like those of a prisoner, four straight vertical lines, then a diagonal line through them. Hanrahan likes plays that include minutiae like that.
Reflections upon whether these lines are "hatch-marks" or "hash-marks" are part of the action. Hanrahan is a good actor, and he chooses work that reflects his own philosophy, or his own questions. Mickle Maher, a Chicago-based playwright whose brother could not pronounce then name Michael, is the author,and Sarah Whitney, who has worked with Hanrahan through the years, directed. It's an interesting evening; one-man shows are tricky, but Hanrahan kept me involved and attentive, even if his point of view sometimes becomes hard to understand.
The classic German legend of Faust gets an interesting re-imagining with playwright Mickle Maher's An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on this His Final Evening. This is an hour spent in the company of a very regretful Doctor John Faustus, along with his ever present servant of the past twenty-four years, Mephistopheles. The Midnight Company has crafted an engaging and intriguing production of this play that's driven by a splendid performance by Joe Hanrahan.
Basically, Faustus has traveled through time to offer an apology to us for not leaving something tangible behind that might properly account for the events that have transpired over the past twenty-four years of his life. Instead, he's left a diary filled with hatch marks, the kind that prisoners might make on a wall to mark the passage of time. But, Faustus isn't even using them for that purpose, it's merely an attempt to thwart the devil from perusing his private thoughts, since he has apparently been doing just that since this pact began. And so, he's here, in our time, to offer some semblance of explanation for his actions, although his past remembrances have all become a blurry haze to him now.
Joe Hanrahan inhabits the part in a way that really brings the character of Faustus to life. There's something compelling and mesmerizing about the way he pulls you in, making you hang on his every word of dialogue, while nervously glancing at his watch to see how much time he has left on this mortal coil. Travis Hanrahan also does effective work as Mephistopheles, wearing an expressionless white mask that only allows him to communicate through his eyes and body language.
Director Sarah Whitney gracefully guides these actors through their paces, maintaining interest in what could easily become a rather tedious or static affair. But that fact that it isn't, and that it lingers in your memory long after you've left the space is certainly a worthy accomplishment.
Fabled and famous Dr. Faustus is in a quandary. Having obtained bountiful knowledge and experienced unlimited earthly pleasures after selling his immortal soul to Satan, Faustus finds himself contemplating what’s occurred now that he sees the encroaching end to his most unusual life. It’s a lonely experience, though, as only his loyal servant of 24 years, the silent Mephistopheles, joins him as he ruminates about his life and the unpredictability of everything.
Faustus engages in a bit of time-tripping into the future, but mostly he rants about his private journal, a book filled entirely with hash marks, such as those etched by prisoners in their cells as they count down the days to their liberation. For his part, Faustus is annoyed incessantly by Mephistopheles’ penchant for poring over his journal as a daily ritual, which he finds intrusive and unwelcome. Mephistopheles says nothing but apparently knows quite a bit, while Faustus seems filled with sound and fury in his ultimate moments.
Highlights: Mickle Maher is a Chicago playwright, actor and co-founder of Theater Oobleck, who first presented his modern take on the Faustian legend in 1999. With no apparent apologies to Christopher Marlowe, Maher offers his own interpretation of the German legend in this one-act, one-hour exercise in theatrical dexterity. With his son Travis Hanrahan sitting silently on a stool behind the unflinching mask of the insidious Mephistopheles, Joe Hanrahan offers another tour de force performance as the obsessed, besieged, paranoiac and miserable title character.
Other Info: Hanrahan’s Midnight Company previously presented another of Maher’s works, a highly entertaining diversion called “The Hunchback Variations,” about the unsuccessful quest of Beethoven and Quasimodo for the perfect sound. If that sounds weird and bizarre, allow us to welcome you to Doctor Faustus as he rages against the world and the winds of change for 60 minutes. Hanrahan expertly conveys the scholar’s pervasive nastiness and searing lack of wisdom, a petulant fellow who defiantly protects his journal of vacuous emptiness as his last resort, while making occasional disturbing references to his partner’s demonic, other-worldly attributes.
Director Sarah Whitney guides Joe Hanrahan and the eerily silent Travis Hanrahan through a surreal moment of terror and tragedy that nevertheless is filled with eccentric humor and even a surprise or two for the audience. Dressel’s Pub makes for a fitting venue for this exotic tale, and costume designer Claire Livingston dresses Faustus as a dapper enough fellow on the outside, while Mephistopheles has a creepily banal appearance.
This evening with “Doctor Faustus” is witty, bizarre and both filling and empty at the same time. Most of all, though, it’s engaging theater and will make you wonder what type of deal Maher struck to create this offbeat tale.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Revised: October, 2007
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