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We do not live in a time of subtlety. If you need evidence, take a look at the news. Shaded, nuanced criticism of President Donald Trump would sound like a whisper next to a tornado. It was refreshing, then, to see a play that dispenses with elegant critique of the president in favor of a gloves-off battery. Faust 3: The Turd Coming, or The Fart of the Deal combats Trump’s logorrhea of vulgarities with its own. Trump is never actually named in the script, but the title alone tells you who it’s about, and the text gives plenty of indications. It is replete with scatological jokes; the story tells of a society that makes a Faustian pact to choose a king who will supposedly better their lives, but then shits on all of his subjects. Having made this deal, the citizens are forced not only to live under the shitty reign (and rain) of this despot, but also to pretend they love it, even as the king ends the world in nuclear war. To describe this play as a scathing satire of Trump would be putting it mildly.
Between its uncompromising, blistering rage and its condemnatory rhetorical stance, the play has many echoes of Biblical prophecy. The prophets of the Bible occasionally made predictions about the future, but most of their teachings involved vituperative indictments of those in power. When their predictions came true, they were usually talking about events that were fairly clear on the horizon — a bit like prophesying climate change disasters today. These prophetic texts speak to us not because of their accurate forecasting, but because of their rhetorical use of righteous anger in order to confront injustice and restore public morality.
Faust 3 works in the same kind of prophetic capacity. It aims to make the audience mad enough to strengthen its resolve against our Hindenburg Disaster of a president. In addition to adopting the rhetorical position of Biblical prophecy, it also plays with Biblical material in clever ways. Jesus’s lines from the Gospels are articulated as ironically inverted versions that resemble Trump’s likely misinterpretations of them, such as: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall save it, and whosoever shall lose his life is a loser and deserves it.” (For the real version, see Matthew 16:25). At other points, verses from the Bible are included almost verbatim to underscore the play’s prophetic nature: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders … [and] they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:24). Given the level of support for Trump among those who consider themselves the very elect, that sounds about right.
Biblical allusions aside, Faust 3 also playfully alludes to a wide range of material, including Shakespeare, Billie Holiday, Christmas carols, Roman history, Yeats, Donne, and of course Goethe’s Faust. With its trove of references and dizzying wordplay, it is an impressive feat of rhetoric, and ensemble members Ayun Halliday, Aidan O’Shea, Regina Strayhorn, and Ben Watts deftly deliver Paul David Young’s ambitious text at a Beckettian, breakneck pace. Together, they form a kind of Greek chorus in clown makeup. There are no discrete roles; the actors alternate between speaking and singing, and between solo and unison delivery. All the shit in the play is described verbally instead of being visualized; the text and the ensemble do a lot of work. Director Augustus Heagerty makes effective use of the ample space in Judson Memorial Church; the actors roam across the wide room and up to the balcony at key moments, adding variation to a visually spare production. Melissa Friedling’s video projections complement the script by drawing attention to important lines of text while creating a sense of looming dread.
The piece is not subtle, and that’s probably fitting. When the president of the United States of America has condoned sexual assault, has publicly said that he would date his own daughter were they not related, has boasted about the size of his penis during a debate, and has both said and tweet-spewed other horrors too numerous to name here (I won’t even go into policy), comparing him to Caligula and Nero doesn’t seem so far-fetched. A play like this would have been too heavy-handed if it were directed at any other recent president, but these days, the rules of public discourse seem to have been thrown out. Now is not the time for art to play nice.