Experimental Theatre Makes a Pact with the Devil

Finally went to see a show last night. I know—”finally” seems like an odd choice, since I see dozens of shows a year, but somehow the fates got together and decided that one thing or another would keep from sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers for several weeks. So – Finally! A little art. A little theatre. Perhaps a cocktail or two before at a nice meal.

Well, that latter part didn’t happen.

What did happen is that I caught a new, original, company created work at Sandbox Theatre called .faust. Over the past few years Sandbox has created a name for itself for its highly stylized, visually stunning original pieces. Their work is not created in the usual sense, in that they don’t employ the standard, modern working relationship between actors and director and playwright. It’s collaborative across the board, and the script and staging are all developed through an intense rehearsal process.

While working this way is not necessarily unique, as there have been many companies who have worked this way, particularly here in the Twin Cities, it creates a unique piece different from so many other shows. There was beautiful imagery with the sets, costumes, staging. There were puppets and cothurni (of sorts) and crashing walls and cliffs that people fell off. The sense of ensemble was incredibly strong—you’d think that some of these actors had been working together for years and perhaps had a shared training experience. There was so much about the piece that felt organic, so many actors in perfect rhythm with the others. Of course, there were a few times when it wasn’t that, which only made these slightly not-quite-what-they-were-going-for moments that much more noticeable. Truthfully, though, I’m being picky to even identify that.

One thing about the show last night that we discussed afterward was having .faust as a title. As you can guess the play was a retelling of the story of Faust, the man who makes a deal with the devil. I wasn’t sure why the dot. Before the show is cast there’s a concept of some kind and a title. But my understanding is that the majority of the script is company created in rehearsals. A title with dot in it made me think that it was going to be some modern-day retelling, something involving the interwebs or something (there wasn’t any of that,) and that in the process of developing the play it wandered away from that. Or, perhaps, the dot was intended as a delineation because three people played Faust?

I’m not sure why the dot.

The thing I came away with though, the important thing, is that this kind of theatre is needed. Original, company created works are needed to keep the theatre world healthy and vibrant, interesting and intriguing, and moving forward. I applaud them for their tenacity and gumption. On a side note – the fact that they were using Red Eye’s space is oh, so appropriate. I love walking in to that space, knowing the experimental theatre history created by those people, in that building, and seeing a new company years later picking up the task in that same playground. (or Sandbox, I guess.)

This work, though, comes with its own pitfalls, many of which Sandbox has seemed to avoid thus far. The biggest one would be creating a beautiful and poignant and touching and magical world in their own world. It’s very easy for group think to take over and blind people to the outside eye. It’s the outside eye, that director’s eye, that can play an important part. (Or so Thespus thought.) And if that gets lost in the process then the beauty and artistry will only be such to those who made it and not to anyone else.

Like Faust, they could be seeking something that they can never have.

I don’t really think this happened with this production, except, perhaps, in one small element. It took me some time to recognize it, but I realized I wasn’t emotionally drawn in to this show and I think it’s because the show was so intellectual. It was all very heady. I didn’t feel as if I connected with anyone. Maybe that was intentional. I don’t know. And it’s possible that the people involved all saw and felt it all so clearly that they assumed that would come across to the audience members. And, at least for me, it didn’t.

This is their biggest pitfall ahead of them. I’m fairly certain though, given the ingenuity, drive and energy of the people running this thing that they’ll find a way to keep going and not fall in that trap. If they’re smart and talented enough to create some of the stuff I’ve seen already, then they will. I certainly hope they do.


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