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Faustus: That Damned Woman

by Chris Bush

2023 - Purdue University Mainstage

Be careful what you wish for. 


This is an age-old adage that seems to re-occur in a multitude of morality tales and narratives about the cost of ambition. Faustus: That Damned Woman and all its predecessors serve as dramatic warnings to the audience, urging them to understand their human limits and to tread lightly when seeking out power and control. After all we know that power corrupts if not treated responsibly. In an era of nearly unchecked technological progress, that warning seems to be barely audible. The playwright Chris Bush explains in the introduction to the play, “This story endures because greed endures, and ambition endures, and we are never short of contemporary figures who believe they can beat the system, or that rules needn’t apply to them.” Much like Johanna Faustus in this production we often seem to be blinded by a desire to solve the world’s problems through our technologies with little forethought regarding the blowback that often comes from our innovations and advances. Within the play there are nods to the impact of research on medical science, nuclear energy, biological manipulation, and artificial intelligence. These are some of the fields that have captured our attention today as the most pressing to engage with to address the challenges of the 21st century. But like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, mentioned in passing between Johanna and Marie Curie in the second act, what price will we pay in the name of scientific advancement fueled by hubris and bind ambition. Johanna sells her soul to the devil simply to gain information not power, but once the seed of knowledge is planted, it grows like a weed cutting out the sun from the underlying connection to nature she might have once relied upon. Turning away from nature, she invests all her energy in science as a way creating immortality for herself and all humanity. And the result? Like Oppenheimer intoning the Bhagavad Gita, she becomes “Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Only in this final moment of despair does she understand the full ramifications of her actions and focuses the little time she has left on what really matters. Unfortunately, this recognition comes too late. Our we approaching a similar fate?


This is the message we hope you take away from this brilliant play.    

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