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Theatre Journal 53.3 (2001) 488-489

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Performance Review

Faust I und II

Faust I und II. By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Arena Treptow, Berlin. 16/17 December 2000.

It took Peter Stein more than ten years to realize his life-long dream of staging both parts of Goethe's tragedy in an unabridged version. He finally succeeded in raising sufficient funds to hire an ensemble and, most importantly, to engage Bruno Ganz for the part of Faust. They had worked together before; early in both their careers Ganz played Tasso in Stein's famous production at the Bremen Municipal Theatre in 1969 and Peer Gynt and the Prince of Homburg at the Berliner Schaubühne in 1971 and 1974 respectively. However, even though casting was settled, a series of disasters still seemed to haunt the production. A few weeks before the premiere, Bruno Ganz had an accident that prevented him from performing. Stein was confronted with either delaying the project (a difficulty because of certain financial commitments) or handing over the part of Faust to the young and relatively inexperienced actor Christian Nickel. He decided on the latter, and the production opened as planned in the summer of 2000 at the World Exposition in Hanover. It received devastating reviews. The critics unanimously agreed that "after a brilliant Torquato Tasso at the beginning of his career, the realization of Stein's life-long dream has failed" (Rheinischer Merkur). Since most of the performances at the Expo were sold out in advance, the twenty-two hour long performances of Faust IundII played to full houses. When the production was transferred to Berlin's Arena Treptow, however, the 460 seats were at most only half occupied. Disaster seemed complete. Fortunately, by the end of October, Bruno Ganz had recovered and returned to the stage. Although the critics were still not entirely enthusiastic--with some notable exceptions--audiences poured into the theatre, either for a weekend (Faust I, Saturday from 3:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Faust II, Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.) or for five nights during the week. The performances are still selling out and will most likely continue to until the run ends, which is scheduled for 7 August 2001. Due to its overwhelming box office success, it may well be prolonged until the end of 2001.

Since Faust I was first published in 1808, it has been staged quite often, but Faust II is rarely performed. There have been some remarkable productions of both parts in the twentieth century, most notably by Max Reinhardt (Berlin 1909/11), Gustaf Gründgens (Hamburg 1957/58), and Claus Peymann (Stuttgart 1977). Usually, part I is cut by fifty percent, part II by as much as seventy percent, so that each performance takes approximately four hours. However, there have also been longer versions, in particular of part II. Reinhardt's performance of Faust II (which followed Faust I the previous night) started at 2:00 p.m. and ran until 1:00 a.m. Even after radical cuts, the performance still lasted eight hours. Thus it is part II, in particular--a play not designed for the box set stage of its time and finished one year before Goethe's death (he sealed the manuscript and put it back into his drawer, so that it could not be published during his life time)--that proves to be a kind of touchstone for theatres, stage directors, and ensembles.

Outside German speaking countries, there have also been some quite extraordinary productions of both parts of the tragedy. In 1975, Klaus Michael Grüber staged Faust Salpétrière in the chapel of the Parisian hospital. Ten percent of Salpétrière was translated by Gérard de Nerval. During the performance, the nearly 300 spectators and thirteen performers wandered through six different playing areas, where it was possible to walk, stand, sit, or [End Page 488] lie down. In 1995, Oi Nóis Aqui Travez staged both parts in a "Faust house" in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The house itself was...


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