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Saturday, October 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 55.0° F  Overcast
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Hell to pay
Evil is fashionable in Dr. Faustus

Dr. Faustus
Broom Street Theater, through May 27

Penned by Renaissance playwright Christopher Marlowe more than 400 years ago, Doctor Faustus tells the tale of a greedy scholar who consigns his soul to hell in exchange for 24 years of debauchery and power on earth. Since Marlowe's time, the Faustian legend has been re-envisioned by writers from Goethe to Oscar Wilde. Now, the Devil's gone down to Broom Street Theater.

Don't expect the neat delineations of a classic morality play on BST's stage, however. Director Greg Johnson's adaptation, Dr. Faustus, toys with Marlowe's framework, adding overlays of German burlesque and gothic camp. With Lucifer grooving to David Bowie and the Seven Deadly Sins dressed like attendees of leather-and-lace night, evil in Dr. Faustus seems downright fashionable. In contrast to this modernized esthetic, the play's blank-verse text is left intact, in all of its beauty and difficulty. As a certain Marlowe contemporary would say, there's the rub.

Some cast members slide too quickly through the dialogue, leaving meaning and connotation obscured. And the placement of the loudspeakers directly behind the audience results in the actors being frequently drowned out by the accompanying music. Still, there is much to be admired. The show truly hits its stride when Faustus (played with energetic fury by Elliot Schultz) and Mephistopheles (the devilishly likable Scott Rawson) begin their fiendish spree through the upper echelons of society. In cameo roles as the Pope and the Emperor, Joseph Lutz is scene-stealingly funny. Clever asides, bawdy humor and Three Stooges-style anachronisms pile up, relieving the plot's opening darkness.

As the tale veers back toward its dramatic conclusion, Johnson makes the most of the spare set. Though once again Marlowe's text feels underexplored, the cast reaches a collective peak before leaving the audience with a final tableau that's just as creepy - and cool - as Lucifer could wish.

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