by Václav Havel
directed by Allison Arkell Stockman
produced by Constellation Theatre Company
reviewed by Steven McKnight
Václav Havel’s Temptation transfers the classic Faust story to a modern scientific institute in a totalitarian country with healthy doses of political satire and absurdist humor. It is a challenging work, but Constellation Theatre Company’s production succeeds due to an inspired creative team and a talented cast.
Dr. Henry Foustka (Nick DePinto) has a prestigious job at The Scientific Institute, working to support the government’s official dogma against those who are tempted by “irrational tendencies.” Yet Foustka is a closet subversive who has been studying the occult in the privacy of his home. When a strange, smelly cripple named Fistula (Frank Britton) shows up and tempts Foustka with the promise of knowledge and power, Foustka is faced with a moral and political dilemma.
Nick DePinto gives a well-balanced performance as Foustka. He manages to remain sympathetic even while considering cheating on his longtime girlfriend Vilma (Heather Haney) with the office secretary Marketa (Jennifer Crooks). He convinces both Fistula and the Institute Director (Jesse Terrill) that he is working as a double agent to serve the interest of each. His portrayal is energetic and nuanced even though he is rarely offstage during the entire performance.
Frank Britton provides a memorable Fistula, making the character both mysterious and humorous. The entire cast at the dysfunctional office is charming, including Jesse Terrill’s flamboyant Director, Ashley Ivey’s obsequious Deputy, and Jennifer Crooks’ innocent Marketa. Heather Haney handles the complicated role of Foustka’s colleague and lover Vilma with an appealing intelligence and grace.
Václav Havel has led an exceptional life, rising from dissident playwright to post-Communist President of Czechoslovakia. He wrote this play in the 1980s while imprisoned for dissent and he uses the story to criticize the notion of a narrow, government-prescribed truth. He also satirizes the responses of citizens living in a totalitarian state, including their excessive formalities resulting from the atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia, as well as the tendency to seek self-serving accommodations.
Although many of the scenes are long and the doublespeak dialogue is a bit convoluted, director Allison Arkell Stockman keeps the action lively. She helps the cast nail the absurdist humor (including the appearances of a mysterious Secret Messenger and a Dancer) which keeps the audience entertained while the satire slowly roles out. She receives ample creative support from choreographer Giselle Alvarez, who stages nicely comic dance scenes and uses movement that even makes the scene changes entertaining. A.J. Guban’s flexible set design, Yvette Ryan’s interesting costumes, and Tom Teasley’s original electronic music all support the strange atmosphere of this story.
If you have a taste for political allegory, the rarely-produced Temptation is an intelligent and intriguing offering, especially during a political season. While this production may not be suited for all theatergoers, it’s a fine effort from a young company that dares to take on complex works.
Running Time: 2:20 (one intermission).
Where: Source, 1835 14th Street NW.
When: Through November 9. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sunday matinees at 3 pm.
Tickets: $15-$20. For tickets, call 1.800.494.TIXS  or visit the website.