Another clinker in the Lincoln Center Festival 98 (whose only impeccable offering was John Cranko’s Onegin, performed by the Stuttgart Ballet) is F@ust: Version 3.0, by La Fura dels Baus, a young company from Barcelona. Fura, in Catalan, means “ferret”; Baus is the name of a dark ravine near Moya, the home of five young street performers, inside which they hung out before moving on to the big B. To my view, the ravine was the perfect receptacle for their talent, but Festival 98 had to ferret them out.
This so-called adaptation of Goethe’s two-part masterwork is La Fura’s first use of a written text and first appearance before seated theatrical audiences rather than standees in plazas and warehouses. Hitherto performed in Catalan, it was done here in Spanish, with English translation piped in via a puny male voice. I can’t tell you all that was lost in translations into Spanish and English, and into the Furans’ own performing language, lenguaje furero. But I can affirm that the story is told, to quote Alan Riding, “through images taken from the Internet, television, advertising, and live video and projected on a giant screen, accompanied by electro-acoustical music (with breaks for Mozart’s Requiem) played by a disk jockey acting the part of the conductor.”
The set is a giant Erector set, with all kinds of gizmos activated by visible stagehands. Or at least as visible as the actors, often shrouded in darkness with only their faces lit up, masklike; at other times, various bright lights shine into the spectators’ eyes, to further dazzle them. All kinds of Goethean characters are alluded to but never realized. Mephistopheles seems to be something inside Faust who is reborn amid spectacular gimmickry in a comic-strip contraption. Margareta becomes “the universal victim,” then allegedly turns into a killer herself. As the program puts it, “slung on a hook like an animal carcass, the first personification of the woman inside Faust hangs. Margareta fills the corridors of the mind of her creator. In his harrowing gallows of projections, Faust returns to his metallic world … and enters a dead time.” Roll that into your joint and smoke it.
La Fura is to theater roughly what MTV is to Broadway musicals, with roughly the operative word. In a cast of eight, Margareta is played by an unsightly but acrobatic Lilliputian, and the Deejay is clowned by an actor who calls himself Dr. Flo. Cybernetics and technology are rampant, usurping all else. The only recognizably Goethean lines are Faust’s compact with the devil (in my translation), “Were I to say unto the moment, / ‘Linger awhile, thou art so fair,’ / Then whisk me off to eternal torment – / Though chained, I shall no longer care.” At the end of this F@ust, the hero does ask the moment to linger, and is, unlike in Goethe, damned.
But what’s seductive about that moment? Nothing anyone sane would wish to prolong. Though there is much that is technically clever, nothing is enticing, certainly not the two tall contraptions that frame the action: a surreal, floppy windmill and a multi-tubular fountain. To quote the program again, “The music of these parts of the spectacle has been composed by authors from all over the world via the Internet, in slots with a maximum duration of 20 seconds. Two mobile sculptures (Medusa and Bambu) on either side of the stage interpret these musical compositions.”
Medusa and Bambu (they could as well be Methuselah and Bambi) are about as good as interpreters as those twenty-second-slotters are as composers. The entire event is a sorry mess, two words I would like to have translated into lenguaje furero, so all those complicit could comprehend them. La Fura has been invited to present F@ust and Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust at next year’s Salzburg Festival. Get your tickets while they last.
Meanwhile, the most interesting thing about the evening was the audience at the State Theater, symptomatic of the state of theater. Way back when, we had audiences that civilizedly applauded, and sometimes bravoed or even stood up. Then the bravos, bravas, and bravis became routine, and the standing ovations standard. Now we get the whooping or yowling, which we had here, and which is the pits. For a moment, I was transported to hell.