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Faust (Faust is Dead) by Mark Ravenhill

“The world’s most famous philosopher arrives in Los Angeles and is greeted as a star. In a round of chat show appearances, he announces the Death of Man and the End of History. When he meets up with a young man who is on the run from his father, a leading software magnate, they embark on a hedonistic voyage across America. But in the play’s bloody conclusion, they discover that not all events are virtual”

SYNOPSIS

The play opens with the Chorus detailing a childhood memory of being unable to sleep and crying because of how awful the world was. The child’s mother would come in to soothe him (or her?) and say that the world will get better. The child then pretends to sleep and teaches himself to cry in such a way so that his mother would never hear him again.

Alain is a world-renowned philosopher who is appearing on the David Letterman TV Show to discuss a book he’s written called The Death of Man and the End of History. The shows’ presenter seems to mock his thesis that the idea of man is dead and turns to Madonna, who is also on the show, and asks her if she’s read the book. She replies no. In the following scene Alain, alone, tells a story about leaving his job at a university due to a warning he received after telling a story to a potential sponsor about a Japanese businessman chopping up and eating a Dutch woman he met. After quitting he decided to ‘live a little’.

Alain then meets Pete who believes Alain to be an A&R (Artists & Repertoire) guy who wants to sign Stevie, one of his clients, and his band. Pete kisses Alain and invites him to stay over, saying he likes him because he is different. Alain appears drunk and starts reminiscing in French about why it is he has come to America; because it is home and here he is free, Pete videos Alain’s musings whilst also loosely translating them.

The Chorus then tell of knowing Stevie a little and saying that when they see him playing they see Kurt Cobain’s spirit coming through and this is beautiful. It is the next morning and it transpires that Pete and Alain did not have sex the night before, and Alain is not in fact an A&R guy. Alain then asks Pete to consider the example of a woman who asks a man she is making love to which part of her he finds the most arousing. He replies her eyes. A couple of days later he receives a parcel containing her eyes, which she had cut out and sent to him. Alain moves to kiss Pete and he backs away, saying that he would only have been with a man if it were to further his career.

The Chorus tell a story of a man who stole a VCR from a shop, brought it home and then is chided by his mother for stealing a VCR rather than food. The man argues that it is more important to have something to watch whilst eating than to have the actual food.

Pete comes home to find Alain with blood on his face, having been attacked by a man he met in a bar, the man who attacked to him said ‘This one is for Bill’. Bill is Pete’s father; a while ago Pete destroyed his father’s computer software, which was set to make millions and only he has the real copy on a floppy disk. It is clear then that the attack was actually meant for Pete & was a case of mistaken identity for Alain. The two then pack their bags and drive away, Alain telling Pete on the journey that he will have sex with him.

They arrive in the desert and Alain begins to feel Pete’s genitals, Pete only says he is okay with it if he can record it on his camcorder. Pete commentates whilst Alain performs oral sex on him. After commenting that he didn’t feel anything whilst Alain made him orgasm, Pete produces several different pills and says they are going to pick pills to take at random and see what happens; the scene ends with Alain having sex with Pete.

Later in a motel chalet Pete suggests Alain should have his own chalet but Alain says he wants them to be together. Pete tells Alain that he’s glad they shared an experience together but now it is over and he is bored. The next morning Pete tells Alain that he knows who Alain is now as he saw a repeat of the TV show he was on; Alain then explains his philosophical theories that we must embrace suffering & cruelty. The chorus then tell a story about the children of the world being polluted by computers & technology, and the church condoning and encouraging this.

Pete meets Donny on a website devoted to people who like to harm themselves. Pete believes that the scars on Donny’s body are faked and says that just because it is virtual doesn’t mean you can lie. Pete gets very angry with Donny and the two agree to meet to compare their cuts and to prove they are real. The chorus then become Donny and recall how his life was vastly affected by the removal of a slush-puppy machine that he used to drink from daily. After it was taken away he behaved terribly and began to cut himself, his mother also died of cancer.

Alain and Pete have a discussion about when it was that reality ended and simulation began. They then watch a video of Danny’s death, with Donny’s dead body lying in their kitchen. Donny killed himself by cutting his jugular to prove he was for real. Alain and Pete then discuss what they will do with Donny’s body. The chorus respond that Donny knew what he was heading out to do as he posted a message on the webpage saying he was ‘gonna make it real’ and they comment that he knew what was happening in his life, and found a way to make this help others.

Three days later Alain and Pete are in the hotel room, Pete having removed Donny’s body. Pete says they need to leave and keep running, however when Alain reveals he stole the disc with his father’s programme on from Pete whilst he slept, Pete produces a gun and shoots Alain, retrieving the disk. The chorus comment that throughout the horrors of the world they don’t feel a thing and wonder what made them that way.

In the final scene Alain is on a drip in a hospital room and Pete reads to him from his book about the death of man. Pete reveals that he is going into business with his father and that they did a deal on the discs. Alain refuses to take his pills and as he leaves Pete gives him a present; a shoebox containing Donny’s eyes.

MAIN ARGUMENTS & RELEVANCE TO FAUST

♥ The play centres on an examination of the line between simulation and reality; Ravenhill’s aim being to challenge and provoke thought.

♥ There is a constant battle of power between Alain and Pete in the play; Alain representing the Devil and Pete as Faust. Alain has success, experience, and self-confidence but needs Pete’s adoration. Pete knows he is the prize, but is fascinated by the older man’s strength, philosophy, and affection. He alternately seeks and rejects that affection. Alain alternately attacks and retreats.

♥ Pete cannot feel anything as a man so uses the lens of a video camera through which to experience life. This can be linked to Faust who is unable to gain anything out of worldly experience so calls on necromancy & Mephistopheles to bring him something new.

♥ Alain (or Mephistopheles) claims ‘Man is dead’, Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust dismisses Faust’s previous focus on the study of man and instead focuses on outer-worldly pursuits.

QUOTES

“And after that I taught myself to cry in a special way that meant she wouldn’t ever hear me again” (Chorus, Scene 1)

“And I decided that maybe I should live a little” (Chorus, Scene 3)

“In Europe, we are ghosts, trapped in a museum, with the lights out and the last visitor long gone” (Alain, Scene 4)

“Because my dad wants to be everywhere. His software in every home, on every desk. Bill, Bill, Bill. Like God, God, God.” (Pete, Scene 8)

“My dad sees the future like a journey down a long road” (Pete, Scene 9)

“So now we are going to have an experience. Which is fine. But just by themselves, on their own, okay, experiences don’t have a shape. They don’t have a shape and they don’t have a rhythm. And without shape, without rhythm, the experience can be so much, it can be too painful. So we shape the experience. Like this.” (Pete, Scene 10)

“Man is dead, you know. And Progress. Progress also. Progress is dead. And Humanity. Yes, Humanity is dead” (Alain, Scene 11)

Alain I call this moment the End of History because what we understand as history , this movement forward, has ended. And the words which have for so long been our guides… Progress for example. This now means nothing. We know this in our hearts. Every man, every woman, they know it, they feel it, but they don’t say it. So we have to ask ourselves this question: When will we embrace…(this is a word for you also, embrace?)

Pete Uh huh. Embrace. Yeah

Alain …chaos. When will we live the End of History? …We must be cruel, we must follow our desires and be cruel to others, yes, but also we must be cruel to ourselves. We must embrace suffering, we must embrace cruelty” (Scene 14)

“Just because it’s virtual. Doesn’t mean you can lie, you know? Just because no one can reach out and touch it, doesn’t mean you can fake it.” (Pete, Scene 14)

“I like Jesus, although I never met him. But I believe it’s possible.” (Chorus, Scene 15)

“At some point, at a moment at the end of the twentieth century, reality ended. Reality finished and simulation began... And we began to live this dream, this lie, this new simulated existence… And the event itself is just a shadow, a reflection of our analysis.” (Alain, Scene 16)

“Which seems to say to me that maybe Donny wasn’t so pathetic after all, and he knew what was happening in his life and found a way to make something good from it.” (Chorus, Scene 17)

“Who was cruel? The Dutch woman or the Japanese man? It was the woman, the woman was cruel. Because she understood the use of metaphor and he understood nothing” (Alain, Scene 19)

“See I’m the kind of person who can stand in the middle of an earthquake and I’m just like ‘woah, neat earthquake’. And I wonder what made me that way.” (Chorus, Scene 19)

“Because Man is dead. For so many centuries, we have believed in his existence. This thing, this construct, this thing we called Man…As surely as, several hundred years ago now, God died and we trembled to live in a universe without him, so now we look around and see that Man is no more.” (Pete, Scene 20)