Written in 1938, the play uses the invention of the electric light bulb as its central metaphor. Questions about technology and its gifts of god-like powers are brilliantly (and literally) explored in Stein’s play. Stein, an American-born novelist, poet and playwright, was a central figure in the Parisian and New York avant-garde art world of the early 20th century. She lived as many artists of the day, as an expatriate, coining the phrase “the lost generation” to describe her many artist-friends. She is considered a literary innovator and a pioneer of modernist literature. She was also a keen admirer of Cubism, long before it became a popular modern art movement. In a 1992 New York Times review of its Lincoln Center revival, “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights” was described as a “frolicsome, Cubist-inspired look at the Faust legend”.
The play, like much of Stein’s prose and poetry, breaks with narrative and linear conventions. There are elements of her “language of insistence”. Indeed, the inspiration for the play began during a 1938 night at the French opera, when she discovered that the season’s next production would be Gounrod’s “Faust”. She scribbled the following opening lines (for “Dr. Faustus”) in that evening’s program: “Dr. Faustus sitting alone surrounded by lights” and “If I do it/If I do it,/What is it./Bathe me/Will it/Will it/Will it be/Will it be it”. (Source: Mama Dada – Gertrude Stein’s Avant Garde Theatre). Although the play was conceived as a libretto, the score was never realized in Stein’s time. Since her death “Faustus” has become a “Rite of Passage” for many experimental companies.
Director, Tristan DiVincenzo explores the sonics of the piece as his cast manipulates both live audio and visual technology. The effects create a modern multimedia cacophony of sound and vision where classical and modern additional personage emerge from. This magical mirror of sorts produces such characters as: Margarita Ida Helena Annabelle, Mephisto, Viper, Man From Over The Sea, Boy and Dog, Boy and Girl. These are the symbolic and often shifting character names of “Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights”. The play, like Gertrude Stein herself, contains a profoundly deep and ironic sense of humor.