English today is the globe’s lingua franca, but that doesn’t mean we all speak it the same way. The faith of foreign nationals in their ability to communicate in the language of rock and Brad Pitt movies often faces unexpected obstacles. Evidence was offered last week by a troupe from Mexico City’s Teatro de Arena, delivering the rich, densely allusive text of John Jesurun’s Faust/How I Rose in Spanish at one performance and for the rest of its run in a solemn, sometimes thickly accented English that made its iridescent, sly, rapidly shifting verbal patterns seem ponderous and stilted. Though I doubt that my ear could have coped with a text as complex as Jesurun’s in Spanish, I wish I’d been able to hear these artists in their first language rather than their second. Two of them, Ari Bruckman as Faust and Monica Dionne as his female Mephistopheles, registered powerfully anyway, but Martín Acosta’s production as a whole felt strained. The initial quality of every Jesurun text, a madcap breeziness, was lost in the effortful non-translation.
The madcap quality’s particularly necessary to Faust because it traffics in subjects of a deeper gravity than are often at issue in Jesurun’s playwriting. The characters struggle, in our crumbling, media-barraged world, to cope with life and death, meaning and moral choice, reality and imagination. The script’s quotes and jokes constantly give way to deeper visions. Someday, a troupe that can play it at its own colloquial speed will make that clear; at BAM in English, it felt like, of all things, a foreign classic.