Theatre and music faculty collaborate with students to stage unique version of Faustus

May 27, 2015

North Central College presents the dramatic work by Gertrude Stein of “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights” June 4-7.

Four performances of “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. June 4-6 and at 2 p.m. June 7 in Madden Theatre at the Fine Arts Center, 171 E. Chicago Ave. Tickets are $10/adults and $8/students and senior citizens; call the North Central College Box Office at 630-637-SHOW (7469) or visit

Unlike most versions of the legendary tale of Faust, in which the title character sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, Stein’s version has Faustus selling his soul to Mephisto for the ability to create electric light specifically. Stein starts the play in the terrifying, beautiful aftermath and regret of his choice.

Kelly Howe, North Central’s assistant professor of theatre and coordinator of gender and women’s studies, directs “Doctor Faustus,” which she says is considered by many people to be one of the master works of the 20th century.

“Stein resists any easy attempt to ‘solve’ the riddle of the play’s meaning. She interrupts her own narratives and punctuates in purposely ambiguous ways,” says Howe. This ambiguity is the reason Howe chose to stage the play and explore its possibilities. “Doing a play isn’t always about presenting a fully finished understanding of something to an audience,” she says. “It can also be about—and indeed I think it should be about—asking a difficult-to-answer question in a hopefully compelling way, in collaboration with an audience.”

Focusing on texture, rather than on story, Howe invited guest scenic and lighting designer Brandon Wardell, of Chicago, to create a visually stunning world using different kinds of light. She also collaborated with Jonathon Kirk, North Central College assistant professor of music, who composed the soundscape for the play, which Stein wrote as a libretto to an opera.

“Our approach for this project is more exploratory, using music in unconventional ways to both color Stein’s text and create a completely different sense of mood and place,” says Kirk. “The music is entirely comprised of the actors’ voices along with electronically processed samples of acoustic sounds, voices and instruments.”

Howe adds, “Stein’s choice to have her Faustus create electric light explicitly makes the play about the exhilaration and disorientation of modernity. Written in 1938, the play has the sense of a mind reeling to make sense of so many technological and cultural changes. The text resonates today for that same reason, among many others.”

The cast for “Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights” perform various parts; the following are their primary roles (role, actor, year, major, hometown):
Mephisto: Jack Bauer, senior majoring in theatre, from Manhattan
Dog: Maddie Burke, sophomore majoring in theatre, from Monroe, Mich.
Multiple roles: Sarah Fons, sophomore majoring in theatre, from Stoughton, Wis.
Multiple roles: Kellyn Maguire, freshman majoring in theatre, from Downers Grove
Girl: Ali McGarel, junior majoring in marketing and theatre, from Naperville
Man From Over The Seas: Alex Moerer, sophomore majoring in theatre and broadcast communication, from Waverly, Iowa
Faustus: Jack Morsovillo, sophomore majoring in theatre, from Franklin Park
Woman: Becca Sheehan, junior majoring in musical theatre and theatre, from Hinsdale
Marguerite Ida & Helena Annabel: Emma Smith, senior majoring in theatre, from Downers Grove
Boy: Bobby Taves, sophomore majoring in theatre, from Oswego
Multiple roles: Natasha White, senior majoring in broadcast communication with minors in theatre and Japanese, from Elk Grove Village

The crew includes student design and production staff:
Stage manager: Brittney Collins, junior majoring in theatre and theatrical design and production, from Sullivan, Ill.
Assistant director: Stephen Kossak, sophomore majoring in theatre and theatrical design and production with a minor in art, from Somonauk, Ill.
Costume designer: Olivia Crary, senior majoring in theatre, from New Glarus, Wis.
Hair/makeup designer: Jack Ryan, junior majoring in musical theatre and mathematics, from Warrenville
Properties designer: Jordan DePhillips, freshman majoring in musical theatre, from Plainfield
Assistant stage manager: Carrie Anderson, sophomore majoring in theatre, German, and theatrical design and production, from Bolingbrook
Assistant stage manager: Taylor Benoit, sophomore majoring in theatrical design and production, from Bartlett
Master electrician, assistant lighting designer: Tom Noesen of Naperville

North Central College offers majors in theatre, theatrical design and technology or musical theatre and a minor in dance. A full range of acting and dance classes is available, as well as opportunities to direct a full-length production. Students of all majors can participate in musical and nonmusical performances, actor showcases and one-act plays and performances in the College’s four theatre venues. Full-time professors and active professionals who are artist-teachers serve as faculty.