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A lacerating 'Faust,' not for the squeamish

October 18, 2003|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Of the maverick playwrights who refashioned British theater as the 20th century ended, Mark Ravenhill is perhaps the most adventurous and easily the most scabrous. From his 1996 debut play, "Shopping and

As in "Faust Is Dead," now at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana. Ravenhill's 1997 update of Goethe via Michel Foucault receives a lacerating reading by the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company.

Ravenhill's narrative wraps the saga of an aging scholar who sells his soul to Satan around an episode from the life of French philosopher Foucault. Its center is rumpled Alain (Jay Michael Fraley), a celebrated existentialist first seen wedged between the cutout faces of David Letterman and Madonna.

Alain, whose argument purports the extinction of reality, awakens from a drunken stupor enthralled with software heir Pete (Ryan Harris), who has absconded with his father's ominous new "Chaos" program.

Ravenhill moves these prototypes into graphic sexual interaction as they make their didactic getaway across America's underbelly. Their hedonistic trek leads to self-mutilating teen Donny (Scott Barber), with a climax that goes for the literal jugular and an eye-popping denouement.

Ravenhill is practically this company's resident playwright, and director-designer Dave Barton's inexorable staging gives the devil his due. Dawn Hess' lighting is atmospheric and the videos (co-designed by Fraley) are invaluable.

So are the fearless actors. Fraley's frazzled philosopher leaps into the abyss without hesitation, and Harris, unrecognizable from "New Jersey Trilogy," is his disaffected mirror. Their scenes of copulation while spouting polemic display absolute commitment, and Barber is unbearably invested.

Ravenhill's disturbing, specialized voice is, as always, a direct assault on audience complacency. Yet, although squeamish souls should beware, fans of renegade allegory, no matter how gory, may find "Faust Is Dead" unsettling and representative.


'Faust Is Dead'

Where: Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana

When: Fridays -Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Also Oct. 30, 8 p.m.

Ends: Nov. 2

Price: $12-$15; Oct. 31, $16.66

Contact: (714) 547-4688

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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