Faustwork Mask Theatre ‘unmasks’
. . . a menagerie of characters in a solo show
“I turned down Carnegie Hall,” said Rob Faust, director and performer of Faustwork Mask Theatre, when asked what are some of his favorite touring stops over the past 30 years. “It’s better than saying I played Carnegie Hall. That’s my favorite place that I’ve never played.”
Faust has performed at the ancient Greek theater in Ephesus, Turkey, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, but he also includes Maui on his list of favorites. He will return to perform “The Mask Messenger” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 in the McCoy Studio Theater at Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului.
Faust said his love of masks evolved from a physical theater class he had taken with Leonard Pitts in Berkeley, Ca.
“He used masks as a training tool and my eyes lit up. It resonated with my soul and Mardi Gras memories,” said Faust. “I became hooked on masks in a new way — as a vehicle for making theater.”
After several months of training, a fellow student volunteered to teach the New Orleans native how to make masks.
“She told me to bring clay and a kind of plastic called celastic — that’s a resin/plastic impregnated fabric which is moldable. The extent of my early mask-making training was my friend’s simple advice, ‘Remember that a face is not flat, and always view the clay from all angles while sculpting.’ I had a knack for it and it wasn’t long before I had completed more than a dozen masks.”
I asked Faust if he has a favorite mask.
“The Coach. He’s funny so people laugh, but his character speaks and says, ‘That’s not funny,’ and ‘What are you laughing at?’ That just makes people laugh more. He reminds me of all my coaches as a kid — my old basketball coach — but he’s a composite figure. Everyone will recognize this guy. We all had him in gym class.”
Faust started as a professional dancer with the New York-based dance company Pilobolus performing on Broadway and appearing on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” He later collaborated with one of the famed modern dance company’s founders, Martha Clarke. Rob explained how Faustwork Mask Theatre evolved from that chapter of his life.
“I had been teaching kids at ACT (the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco) and auditioned for Pilobolus in New York.”
After being cast, Faust moved to Connecticut.
“I had done a mask theater presentation for a sculpting class at an art gallery in Connecticut and was invited to do the presentation at a school. As a performer, you’re always looking for ways to get by and that led to being invited to perform at other schools.”
Faust then went on to do a six-minute showcase of his work for several hundred presenters and school representatives at a New York City conference in 1986.
“I booked 150 shows the first year and I think 180 or 200 the second year; eventually it was 240 shows averaging about 10 shows a week. So in 1988 or ’89 I taught someone else to do the show and essentially became a producer. Over the years I’ve created many different shows working solo, as a duo, and incorporating symphonies and dance,” shared Faust.
After witnessing several of Faust’s videos, I asked if he was influenced by silent film comedians or perhaps commedia dell’arte.
“It is commedia Americana, but I use one-half commedia masks and there are some of the recurring characters of commedia.”
Faust named Art Carney, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, Steve Martin and Don Knotts as a few of the physical comedians that inspired him, but credits seeing the Swiss puppet troupe, Mummenschanz, as a major influence.
“It was in 1978 or ’79. When I saw them I said, ‘Man, I could do that.’ “
“The Mask Messenger” is a solo performance featuring a menagerie of characters in vignettes ranging from comic to poignant to bizarre, which incorporates most of the first act of Faustwork Mask Theatre’s 1999 New York production, “Carnival Knowledge.”
Legendary newsman the late Mike Wallace attended the production which he described as, “Totally unique — I have never seen anything like it and neither have you. It is simply stunning.”
Many of Faust’s favorite audience reactions come from children — “I laughed so hard I vomited,” and “I laughed so hard I peed my pants.”
“Mostly its fun, it’s just a fun show. We see a bit of humanity in the masks and many people see themselves in them,” said Faust.
Last weekend Maui OnStage Youth Theater opened “Seussical Jr.,” a journey through the imaginative world of Dr. Seuss. Nearly an operetta with its non-stop songs, the 90-minute musical begins with the appealing “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think.”
Led by Jeremiah Webb as the Cat in the Hat and joined by 41 young actors, the entire company demonstrates that an actor’s an actor, no matter how young.
“Seussical’s” libretto is well-armed with moments of mischievous sarcasm and Webb champions all its sassiness and silliness. Though primarily based on the Dr. Seuss books, “Horton Hears a Who” and “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “Seussical” is a mash up of many tales and colorful Seuss characters. There’s Horton (Ian Smith), an elephant up in a tree; JoJo Who (Kanoa Goring), a boy too tiny to see; Gertrude McFuzz (Jaimie Tirona), a bird with feather envy; Lazy Mayzie Bird (Rylynn Guthrie) who abandons her egg to fly off on a spree; Sour Kangaroo (Olivia Robinson) who’s as sour as can be; and springing out of the box to have fun is Luna Graham-Milligan as Thing 1 and Jael Hipp as Thing 2.
The weaving of Seussian tales and language begins when the loyal, sympathetic and entertaining Horton discovers the planet, Who — the “tiniest planet in the sky” — which looks like a speck of dust that he decides to guard.
“Here on Who,” is another catchy melody well performed by the Whos — Goring, Avery Ardoin, Ethan Baysa, Kayle Herman, Max Huston, Miley Kelley, Ravenna Kurz, Mikaela Lagasca, Ben Macario, Charlotte Macario, Makena Padon, Rachel Robinson, Leianna Santos and Rylee Stout.
Three very young actresses are particularly impressive in “Seussical.” Tirona and Guthrie are both amazing in a string of songs: “The One Feather Tail of Miss Gertrude McFuzz,” “Amayzing Mayzie” and “Amazing Gertrude,” and Olivia Robinson does a Motown diva proud belting “Biggest Blame Fool.”
Enhancing the production is a wonderful set designed by director Alexis Dascoulias and the vibrant costumes by Ricky Jones, Vicki Nelson and Brett Wulfson. This endearing youth show is Maui OnStage Youth Theater’s most imaginative production to date and perfect for small children.
* “Seussical, Jr.” concludes with performances at 11 a.m. on Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children. To purchase tickets for any Iao Theater event, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.
Also this week
Kamehameha Schools presents “Androcles and the Lion,” directed by Camille Romero, under the musical direction of Tana Larson. This musical adaptation of the Aesop fable is presented in the style of Italian commedia dell’arte.
* Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and include a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays beginning Friday through Nov. 4 at the Keopuolani Hale on the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Pukalani. Admission is free to all Kamehameha Schools productions.
Cabaret & Cocktails and ProArts Playhouse present “Late Night Horrors: A Comedy and Burlesque Revue.” This evening of classic Halloween entertainment is set at Dracula’s favorite hangout, the Naughty Nightmare. Rub elbows with the Wolfman and Frankenstein’s Monster while enjoying some spooky stand-up and brazen burlesque. Hosted by Madame Munchausen, this burlesque revue stars the frisky, whisky wahine of Cabaret & Cocktails and the handsome heartthrobs of the Bat Pack.
* Performance is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets range from $20 to $25 and are available through www.eventbrite.com.