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Theater Review

Stravinsky's Take on a Faustian Bargain

In 'L'Histoire du Soldat,' bartering for souls includes visual and musical twists.

March 01, 2001|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"L'Histoire du Soldat" at the Edison Theatre is a well-acted, visually stunning interpretation of Igor Stravinsky and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz's Faustian drama with music.

Stravinsky was living as a refugee in Switzerland, facing economic hard times when he teamed with the Swiss poet-novelist and wrote this modest piece based on a Russian folk tale. Unlike the protagonist in "Faust," the soldier, Joe (Mark Staley), unknowingly trades his soul (represented by a fiddle) for a magic book.

Viktoria Teplinskaya's set is dominated by a suspended, textured silver ring that serves as a threshold for Joe's choices. Black walls with irregular cutouts provide a small hallway behind which characters lurk, sometimes peering through to watch as Matt Knewtson's lighting helps shift the moods. Musical director Richard Rintoul conducts a seven-piece orchestra in the theater's pit.

Director Andre Steger suggests another type of ring when the narrator (Stephen Mendel) first appears dressed in black tie and tails. Under a dramatic overhead spot, Mendel commands attention like a circus master of ceremonies. The soldier is first represented as a puppet, who falls once the narrator cuts his strings.

Staley projects a world-weary innocence, while Peter Uribe's Devil is a mischievous wag rather than a frightening wraith. This sets up the Devil's momentary lapse in judgment and Joe's unhappy fate.

The only false step here is Holly Harbinger's choreography, which doesn't excite the imagination as the rest of this California Repertory Company production does.

* "L'Histoire du Soldat," California Repertory Company at Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 7 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; also March 10, 17, 2 p.m. Ends March 17. $20. (562) 432-1818. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

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