Review: Masks make a magical performance for all

By Posted in - Reviews on March 25th, 2013 0 Comments

Faustwork Mask Theatre has a simple credo- that masks are magic. They proved it beyond a doubt Saturday evening at the Armory for the Arts Theatre with Faustwork In Concert. If you wish to find a window in your heart, this show will open it for you.

Performing for Santa Fe Stages, founder Robert Faust and his wife and artistic partner, Paola Styron, alternately excited, educated and awed their audience of children and adults. While that sounds like something out of an arts management goals text, it’s a simple fact: I don’t think I’ve heard a mixed-age group laugh so much.

Under cover of explaining the history of masks, GUMBO became an object lesson in the lure of theatre. Even the far from ideal Armory stage was no barrier. The piece was long, but it never lagged, and not just because of the intrinsic power of the very different masks used, all made by Faust- though that power is tremendous.

But added to that was Faust and Styron’s complete body control. Both are actor-dancers, but from the way they moved and interpreted their immensely varying characters, they have the souls of poets. From perfectly imitating the movements of insects and animals to assuming every kind of personality trait and quirk, they never wavered. Such skill arises from one’s artistic core, and cannot be counterfeited.

GUMBO ran the gamut from the silly to the sensational. Impressive in another way was FOR TRUE, in which Faust paid a moving tribute to the Black women who helped raise him when he was a child in New Orleans.

As he recounted the story of how she was such an integral part of his family life, and yet stood outside it as a victim of a racist society, he gradually assumed an oversized body suit and an immense smiling mask- how he, as a child, saw this loving and powerful woman. And when he bacame she, and danced in the light of memory to Sol Burke’s Cry for Me, one yearned for a world where everything is understandable and affection means perfection.

The second half of this program- Faustwork is also doing another during its week here, THE MASKED MESSENGERS- was devoted to mask-dance works. BURDEN OF PARADISE was a disturbing but revelatory study of the attraction of opposites, the consequences of daring. The surface story was drawn from the Beauty and the Beast legend, but the interweaving of emotions and attractions suggested depths perhaps better left unplumbed. With simple lighting, simple costumes and one arresting mask, Faust and Styron told a story older than Cupid and Psyche, but with no guarantee of a happy ending.
Two shorter pieces were alternately funny and freightening: Styron’s GWENDOLYN, with a madcap ballet dancer going to town, and FUTURE ANCESTORS, with Faust starting as a crabbed ancient and becoming a newborn in an uncanny world.

The performance closed with a surreal GINGERELLA, which at once sent up the old hoofer tradition of Astaire and Rogers. Great fun, but with a serious undercurrent to it too: sometimes our memories of past joys obscure a disagreable truth.

Craig Smith, Santa Fe, N.M.

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