* An adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s “Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights” * Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte * Performed by the Wooster Group

Although best-known for launching the movie-star careers of Spalding Gray and Willem Dafoe, the Wooster Group is one of the world’s foremost experimental theaters, famous for its high-powered performers and high-tech design. The company specializes in productions that bounce a dramatic classic off of some wacky alternative text -- Thornton Wilder’s *Our Town* meets Pigmeat Markham’s vaudeville routines, or Arthur Miller’s *The Crucible* funneled through the reminiscences of Timothy Leary’s babysitter. Although the company’s founding members included the late Ron Vawter, who created the legendary solo performance *Roy Cohn/Jack Smith*, the Wooster Group has never dealt with overtly gay content -- until now. Its newest production, which is playing at the company’s home base in Soho, the Performing Garage, juxtaposes Gertrude Stein’s *Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights* with scenes from a corny 1964 soft-core porn film called *Olga’s House of Shame*, about the lesbian proprietor of a sinister academy for girls.

Unlike the company’s last show -- a production of Eugene O’Neill’s *The Hairy Ape* starring Dafoe that played on Broadway -- *House/Lights* is a more abstract, intellectually challenging piece of theater. In typical Wooster Group fashion, director Elizabeth LeCompte arranges the stage as a steely landscape of video monitors, sophisticated sound equipment, even a chic Indian woman operating a laptop. This mechanical world is given life by the actors. Central to the show is the virtuosic performance of Kate Valk, who speaks almost the entire Stein text herself in an intimate, electronically-filtered whisper. In its dada-poetic way, Stein’s 1938 play (conceived as an opera libretto) portrays a Faust who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the illusory thrill of electric light, which symbolized fame to Stein and to LeCompte suggests high technology, sex, and/or any material lust. The same actors play figures from the Faust legend -- pop singer Suzzy Roche makes a delicious Devil -- as well as characters from the *Olga* film in a style closer to dance than to kitchen-sink drama. Although there’s some very sexy lesbian interplay (nipple-fondling and mock S/M), *House/Lights* is less of a linear narrative than a dream-like meditation on the Faustian bargain that we have struck with advanced media technology. Give us cable TV, the Internet, and the history of the world on video, and we’ll create a culture that jumbles everything together -- God and the Devil and Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop -- in an alchemical stew, so it’s sometimes hard to tell whether the result is shit or gold.

The Advocate, March 2, 1999

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