Faustus in Africa

Marlowe turned the story into a tragedy. Goethe remade the man into an everyman for the industrial age, filling the world with satanic mills and improving society despite himself. Now come William Kentridge and the Handspring Puppet Company from South Africa to transform Faust once again. This time he’s the ideal imperialist–greedy, rapacious, and completely insensitive to the indigenous peoples he conquers. Set in colonial Africa, this rich performance is full of spectacle and dark comedy, in part recasting Goethe’s Faust as a history lesson, using animated films, puppetry, and live performance. Here Faust trades his soul for a colonist’s right to exploit Africa–to turn its jungles into shooting galleries, its population into cheap labor, its resources into so much booty and swag. He’s a lean and hungry puppet, a joyless, shriveled head on a pole of a body. God and Mephisto are played by live actors–both African, a choice that undercuts the Western cliche of the devil having black skin–and hell is a huge countinghouse not unlike the hell Faust makes of Mother Africa over the course of the play. Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, 773-722-5463. Opens Thursday, April 10, 7:30 PM. Through April 12: Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 3 and 8 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $10-$36.

–Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Ruphin Coudyzer.