nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
November 4, 2006
In Temptation, Czech playwright Vaclav Havel turns Doctor Faustus into a political allegory. Faustus is recast as Foustka, a scientist employed by a high-profile institute in a country that favors the deductive over the spiritual. Regardless, Foustka secretly indulges his interest in black magic and the occult. One day he is visited by Temptation's Mephistopheles stand-in, Fistula, a vagrant who smells like cheese. Fistula shares Foustka's otherworldly interests, and claims he can make the good doctor's wishes come true. The two enter a clandestine alliance that is more complicated than Faustus's selfish journey of self-discovery: Foustka has the government's anti-ethereal specter hovering over him, and he may have an office mole to contend with as well.
Under the direction of Ian W. Hill, Gemini CollisionWorks' current revival of Temptation, now playing at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg, captures Havel's creeping uncertainty. A master of subtext and meaningful repetition, the playwright uses both to create awkwardness and suspense. Will Foustka make a move on the office secretary, Marketa? What will his longtime girlfriend, Vilma, say if he does? Does she have a paramour of her own? Is Foustka's boss, The Director, hitting on him? And, just who is Fistula? Paranoia is everywhere in Temptation, and it sneaks up on the audience unawares while they're busy laughing. Hill and his company nail Havel's unique absurdist blend of humor and fear perfectly.
The role of Foustka is a massive one: he appears in every scene, and is onstage for almost the duration of the show. Not an easy assignment, but Walter Brandes is up to the task, giving a Herculean effort that looks as easy as a walk in park. He's comfortable with Foustka's "high flown oratory," as one person calls it (a trait which the character uses to continually talk his way into and out of almost any situation), and navigates the character's precarious duplicity with expertise. Alyssa Simon is bewitching as Vilma, playing her with a heady balance of tenderness and sex appeal. As Marketa, Jessi Gotta's idealistic, wide-eyed optimism is equally enchanting. Danny Bowes adds comic dimension and color to the role of The Director. And, Timothy McCown Reynolds is terrifyingly mysterious as Fistula. His scenes with Brandes crackle with electric paranoia. Temptation is amply bolstered by a supporting cast of trusty Brick regulars including Fred Backus, Maggie Cino, and Roger Nasser.
My one qualm with the production is Hill's set design. He has clearly gone to great lengths to outfit the play's two main locales, Foustka's office and apartment, as thoroughly as possible. And, I applaud his painstaking detail, since in that regard the set works. But, it is simply too much stuff. Not only does it crowd the stage and reduce the playing space for the actors (as well as Hill's staging possibilities), but it provides some ungainly and longer-than-necessary set changes. Crucial minutes could be lopped off Temptation's nearly three-hour running time if the transitions were easier to do. On the whole, though, this is one Temptation you'll want to give in to.