Thu, Sep 07, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Life, love and betting with the devil

The Contemporary Legend Theater teamed up with German dramaturge Christoph Lepschy to retell Goethe’s epic poem about a man’s search for knowledge and love and his bet with the Devil in a more condensed, Beijing opera format

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Chu Po-cheng, top, will portray Mephistopheles to Wu Hsing-kuo’s Faust in the Contemporary Legend Theatre’s production of the German classic, which premieres tomorrow night as part of the Taipei Arts Festival.

Photo Courtesy of Kuo Cheng-chang

The Contemporary Legend Theatre (當代傳奇劇場) has tacked many Western classics since its founding in 1986 — building a reputation for its retelling of William Shakespeare’s greatest hits — Macbeth, King Lear, The Tempest — Greek tragedies and works by Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov and Franz Kafka as well as the traditional Beijing opera canon.

However, its creative team really challenged themselves when they decided to tackle the magic mountain of German literature and drama, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.

The epic two-part poem about the Devil’s wager with God and a man who wagers his soul with the Devil in return for earthly fulfillment and rejuvenation took Goethe decades to write, runs to more than 12,000 lines and covers 3,000 years of Western history.

Most productions of Faust focus on Faust I; to do the full play reportedly takes 21 hours, with intermissions. The Contemporary Legend Theater production, which premieres tomorrow night at Zhongshan Hall as part of the Taipei Arts Festival, runs 170 minutes with a 20-minute intermission.

Obviously, artistic director Wu Hsing-kuo (吳興國) and scriptwriter/choreographer Lin Hsiu-wei (林秀偉) had to do some major condensing and selective editing. For help with that, they turned to German Christoph Lepschy, professor of dramaturgy at the University Mozarteum Salzburg in Austria.

In a telephone interview on Monday, Lepschy explained how he got involved in the project.

****“I was actually invited two years ago by the Taipei Arts Festival to give a talk on dramaturgy and they organized a meeting with a couple of theater people. I met with Wu … he told me about his Faust project. Last year I was in Taipei for three months as guest professor … and I met with Wu and Lin Xiu-wei,” Lepschy said.

Performance Notes

WHAT: Faust

WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm

WHERE: Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), 98 Yanping S Rd, Taipei City (台北市延平南路98號)

ADMISSION: NT$600 to NT$3,000; most of the ground-floor seats are sold out for the first two performances, with seats in the back of the balcony left

Wu and Lin already had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to focus on in their retelling of Faust’s story, they wanted to focus on the journey of a life, the questions of “did what I do make sense,” and “would I do it again.”

“It was very clear they were interested in love and desire — Faust and Helena [Helen of Troy], Faust and Marguerite [or Gretchen as she is more commonly known],” he said.

One of the great things about the poem/play is that the storyline is so open, jumping through time and space, so there are endless possibilities for a director to focus on, he said.

“I really admire certain aspects of jingju [Beijing opera, 京劇] — a lot of elements of jingju allow them to get to certain elements of Faust — the emotion … the emotional core of Faust, of Mephistopheles, Marguerite, a couple of ghosts,” he said. “There is the ability to narrow it down, not necessary to have so many characters.”

Lepschy said that even in German productions of the play, it is difficult to do all the characters.

“Especially Faust II, you would get lost, jumping through space and time, but jumping into different characters is a quality of jingju,” he said.

He said one of the highlights of his time working with Wu and the company was “the curiosity that we both share, where we can learn from each other.

“They were very interested in my point of view, the European view of Faust, how to make something out of it,” he said. “Faust is about knowledge, about discourse; they looked at what does this knowledge mean for me?”

Lepschy said the opportunity to see such a familiar work in a different context was another highlight, but the experience had also reminded him just how modern a tale Faust is, as well as how translatable the issues Goethe dealt with are to the modern world, even though it told from a very Western, very European viewpoint.

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