nytheatre.com review by Mark DeFrancis
February 12, 2009
The Secret Theatre in Queens is just the sort of spot that I've been out looking for. Aptly named and secluded in the warehouses of Long Island City, the Secret Theatre can only be accessed through a loading dock, like some exclusive night spot. Inside, the space is cozy and tight; the kind of nook where the audience and the players are so close together that they are almost one and the same. It's the setting for what a night at the theatre should be: actors, a stage, an audience, and a classic piece.
The Queens Players' presentation of Dr. Faustus, Christopher Marlowe's cautionary tale of greed and damnation, is just the thing. Director Richard Mazda has fashioned a hellish landscape filled with sex, sloth, and a retinue of colorful characters who bring Marlowe's verse to life. Crista Marie Jackson brings a dash of seduction and wit to the devil's lawyer, Mephistopheles, and Ross Pivec deserves credit for his performance as the Horse-Courser [a horse trader]. The character is almost completely unnecessary to the show but Pivec brings some much needed energy and passion to a play which requires both. Leah Reddy, as the character of Robin, is a delight as she employs her range and comedic timing to her scenes. Daniel Wolfe's portrayal of Faustus is, however, a mixed bag. At times he struggles with the text, at others he seems completely out of sync with the performers around him. Faustus is a thoroughly challenging character who requires the ability to shift quickly between contrasting emotions and it occasionally felt like Wolfe was not up to task. But, just when I was about to write him off, he surprised me with a final monologue which was an absolute pleasure to watch. If your going to get one part right, make it the finale; and Richard Mazda and Daniel Wolfe have crafted a superb moment which reminds us of the full potential of beautiful text in the hands of a spirited performer.
While the set design is very impressive for such a small theatre, my one real qualm with the show is that it is filled with needless special effects that distract from a very performance-based piece. Smoke machines, strobe lights, and projectors all try to convey atmosphere, but only throw up the fourth wall in a space which is far too compact for such illusion. When you have such a juicy text like Dr. Faustus, any attempts to distract from it look contrived and will only push the audience out of the scene. This show is at its best when the stage magic is put aside and performer and audience can connect in an intimate space. I am looking forward to returning to the Secret Theatre again soon, and I hope to see you there.