Marlowe! Goethe! Faust!

ONE: Christopher Marlowe wrote The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus in – just a guess – six months? A year?

TWO: Goethe wrote his version in – not a guess – eighty-two years.

ONE: It was in rhyme, and very long.

TWO: The cast includes Faust, Mephistophilis, assorted devils, witches, wizards, a proktophantasmist –

ONE: You don’t wanna know.

TWO: – Oberon, Titania, Puck, Ariel, the Holy Roman Emperor and his court –

ONE: An Emperor can’t go anywhere without his court.

TWO: – a family of apes, a singing olive branch, a vampire, the three Graces, the three Fates, the three Furies, giants, nymphs, gnomes –

ONE: The garden variety.

TWO: – the Great God Pan, a blonde with too many freckles –

ONE: I wanna be at this casting call.

TWO: – a tiny Frankenstein’s Monster trapped in a floating test-tube, a chorus of insects, an army of giant ants –

ONE: Who are not part of the chorus of insects.

TWO: Well, you can double-cast. Several sphinxes, the Sirens, the river Peneus –

ONE: Say that again?

TWO: – the river Peneus, the centaur Chiron, the spirit of Seismic Upheaval, a chorus of pygmies, a chorus of pygmy elders, a chorus of flying dead cranes, a giant tortoise, several sea-horses, a pair of gigantic walking boots, all the angels of heaven, and, last but definitely not least, God.

ONE: Like I said, it’s very long. Somewhere in the neighborhood of ten to twelve hours. Of rhyming couplets.

TWO: If fully produced today it would take at least a hundred million dollars and six months of rehearsal to get it right.

ONE: Tickets would run about eight-hundred bucks a piece. For the Upper Balcony.

TWO: It begins with a prologue in heaven in which the Lord God asks Mephistophilis:

TWO / GOD (PRE-RECORDED, BOOMING): Kennst du den Faust?

TWO: God usually speaks in German, you know. It roughly means:

TWO / GOD (PRE-RECORDED, BOOMING): Have you ever heard of Faust?

TWO: He then goes on to brag:

TWO / GOD (PRE-RECORDED, BOOMING): He’s my servant. Pious, prim.

ONE / MEPHISTOPHILIS: Oh, let me have my way with him.

TWO: Says Mephistophilis.

ONE / MEPHISTOPHILIS: With power, pomp, and pretty ladies                    I’ll ease him down the path to Hades.

TWO / GOD (PRE-RECORDED, BOOMING): He’s plagued with doubt yet Faust is strong,                                                                       A mighty fortress, paragon!                                                 Do your damnedest, try your all –                                             He may trip but he won’t fall.

ONE: Sound familiar? God and His Adversary tried this once before, you know – but unlike Job, Faust isn’t tortured. Better yet, he makes his own bargain.

TWO / FAUST: Who art thou? You – engulfed in flame.                          You stink of brimstone. What’s your name?

ONE / MEPHISTOPHILIS: Liar. Corrupter. God of Flies.                          I am the spirit who denies.                                                  Thou art Faust? Then if you please                                            Call me Mephistophilis.                                                      For a trinket – just your soul                                                (which you consider fol-de-rol)                                              Throughout all the years you live                                            Whate’er you wish is mine to give.

TWO / FAUST: What can you give that I don’t have?

ONE / MEPHISTOPHILIS: Power – Pleasure –

TWO / FAUST: Don’t make me laugh!                                            Power’s illusion – Pleasure ends –                                            Love betrays and Money spends.                                                I’m far too old to play with fire.

ONE / MEPHISTOPHILIS: Too young to be without desire.

TWO / FAUST: Every morning I awake in sorrow and in strife                    Because the day ahead won’t make me happy with my life.                      I don’t believe in Hell, I don’t believe in Him –

ONE / MEPHISTOPHILIS: Then what harm in selling me your soul? It’s just a whim.

TWO / FAUST: Give you what I haven’t got?                                    Sounds good to me.

ONE / MEPHISTOPHIS: (producing a contract) Great! Thanks a lot!              You only need to sign your name.                                              (handing Faust a hatpin) In blood.

TWO / FAUST: In blood?!

ONE / MEPHISTOPHIS: It’s just a game.

           (Faust prepares to prick a finger while Mephistophilis produces a contract. But:)

TWO / FAUST: There’s one condition. (aside) Here’s the scam.                  (to Mephistophilis) I’ve said how miserable I am –                            Until I cry aloud “Hooray! Let this lovely moment linger!                    ‘Tis the best of all my days! How great to be alive!”                        Until that time arrives                                                      You cannot touch me. Not a finger.                                            There’s your challenge. When joy endures –                                    That’s when I will say to you, “I’m yours.”

The Story

Five stories, really: The story of Christopher Marlowe, his friendship with Thomas Kyd, and his subsequent murder; the story of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, his friendship with Friedrich Schiller, and his eventual transformation; the story of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus; the story of Goethe’s Faust; and the mysterious story of the two actors presenting these stories. They brag, they lie, they kiss and tell….

The Backstory

When I was a young actor, I appeared in two productions of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a play I felt was filled with extraordinary poetry and drama, and at the same time had some of the stupidest unfunny scenes in the history of Elizabethan drama. In both of the productions in which I played, I had to perform these stupid, unfunny scenes. (I did my best, but some things are just hopeless.) Meanwhile I did some research: it’s unlikely that Marlowe wrote the stupid stuff; the scenes were composed by others (probably actors!) after his murder. His murder?! Hmmm… I then remembered  reading Goethe’s Faust in grad school and being bowled over by some of the scenes and parts of the story. In other words, both plays needed serious editing, but there was gold in them thar hills. Why not combine the two and create a new Faust. I mulled this over for forty years, and finally – when I was commissioned by the Denizen Theatre to create a new two-person play – I found my way in. Voila! Inspiration, forty years in the coming. I kept the good parts of each play (the good parts, of course, in my opinion), learned of the remarkable parallels between the lives of these great playwrights, and interspersed all of this with a story involving two actors telling these other stories. The result, I believe, is very funny, very meta, and best of all very affordable.