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UI Theater Department presents Dr. Faustus

BY SAMANTHA GENTRY | FEBRUARY 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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The show is supposedly cursed.

This weekend, according to legend, this fate may come to the Univeristy of Iowa Theatre Building's Theatre B.

Actors from different productions of Dr. Faustus have told stories of demons appearing on stage or unlikely problems with costumes and lighting.

UI senior Brittney Swensen said the show will be tough to perform, but both the actors and audience members will have an unusual experience.

"We've all focused on this process for so long that I'm interested to see what the audience is going to take out of it," she said. "I'm curious to see what is going to translate into the audience's experience and how it's going to be received."

The community can see this so-called haunted play at 8 p.m. today in the Theatre Building's Theater B. Performances will continue at 8 p.m. through Saturday, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Feb. 26. Admission is free for UI students with valid IDs, $5 for the general public.

In this version of Christopher Marlowe's classic tale (with cameo appearances by selections from Goethe's Faust), Dr. Faustus battles to decide whether to follow the path of God or bargain his soul with the Devil. While the production usually features a male in this role, this production will feature an all-female cast. Director Kristin Clippard chose a cast of seven women who share the responsibility of playing the 39 characters in the play.

Clippard, a second-year M.F.A. directing candidate, said Dr. Faustus is not a play about sex roles. Before the rehearsals began, she sat down with her cast and determined which characters could be female and which would remain male.

"I believe that the story is very human, because it's going on a search for the truth and having a strong desire for wanting to know more from the world," she said. "My main goal was no matter what gender you are, you can relate to that."

In the play, Faustus takes a journey with Mephistopheles on a path that could lead to misfortune as she battles to protect her soul from masked angels, devils, and spirits.

Swensen plays the role of Mephistopheles, Satan's accomplice and Dr. Faustus' attendant for 24 years. Swensen said she believes the story is strong enough on its own that gender won't make a difference.

"It doesn't matter who desires whom — the feelings are mutual," Swensen said. "I think it makes our show unique, which is important when you're doing a famous piece like this."

UI junior Heidi Bibler plays six roles in Dr. Faustus; her main character is Wagner. In the original play, Wagner is the servant of Dr. Faustus, but in this production, the character acts as a narrator who tells the audience what will happen next.

"It's interesting to have that fourth wall come down and to actually talk to the audience," Bibler said. "It's so neat to incorporate the audience and be able to actually talk to them directly and incorporate them into what the character is going through."

For her, it's a challenge to play several different characters, because each has a different objective.

"What your character wants or needs from the scene does change, and it's a challenge to distinguish the body, voice, and gestures of each one," she said. "But I'm so excited to see what happens when I speak directly to the audience, and if they are going to have fun and accept it or shy away from it."

Clippard believes that it's a great challenge for young actors to play numerous characters in one night because it allows them to focus on what's important about each particular person or creature.

"The actors are working very hard, and I'm so excited for opening night," she said. "The audience will walk away feeling challenged, deciding what they believe will happen with their soul after their life ends. Hopefully, it will be frightening and entertaining all in one."


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