There are few New Yorkers I would rather spend Walpurgis Night with than David Herskovits. When this mischief-loving director beckons us to Goethe’s famous nocturnal bacchanal, it’s easy to acquiesce—partly because Herskovits offers reliably devious fun, creating colorful visual puns and oddball games for his actors. (A sense of humor comes in handy if you’re conjuring iconic demons of the night.) But the appeal also lies in the way Herskovits—when at his best—brings directness to murky dramatic situations and sturdy intelligence to the thorniest texts.
In tackling Goethe’s 18th-century poetic master drama Faust over three years, Herskovits and Target Margin Theater put these talents to a test. Part one, which premiered last year under the title These Very Serious Jokes, covered the knowledge-hungry professor’s pact with Mephistopheles. Faust in Love begins with the youthful Faust’s glimpsing of the maiden Gretchen, tracing a successful narrative arc through their stormy seduction, soulful torment, and repentance. (Installment three arrives next year, and Classic Stage Company plans to present all sections together in spring 2006.)
Herskovits’s staging of Goethe’s hell night does not disappoint: He creates a pleasurably outsized party with witches and nude grotesques, a devilish troupe of “amateur actors,” and evil spirits who conspire against the day. Douglas Langworthy’s resonant new translation of the German verse gives them plenty to chew on, and the company gives the language contemporary fluency (particularly the savory David Greenspan as Mephistopheles). But Faust in Love‘s triumph belongs to Eunice Wong, who makes a soaring transformation (as Gretchen) from a girl’s loving purity into a destroyed woman’s wretchedness and ultimate redemption. Her summoning of strength powers the final scene’s conflict of great forces, turning night into day.