In "Temptation," playwright Vaclav Havel puts a spin on Johann Goethe's and Christopher Marlowe's Faustus tales. He sets his dark comedy in the Czech Republic, where he serves as president.
"(Havel's) one of the important figures who opposed the Iron Curtain regime, which afflicted Eastern Europe after World War II," said John Gronbeck-Tedesco, Kansas University theater professor and the director of University Theatre's upcoming production of "Temptation." "He risked his life to write his plays."
Havel wrote "Temptation" in the early 1980s, when he was one of several Czech dissidents imprisoned for their views. He spent five years in prison but was elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 and then president of the Czech Republic in 1992.
Gronbeck-Tedesco said, because it was against the law for people to gather in one place under the Iron Curtain regime, theaters in Eastern Europe became the natural meeting place of those who opposed the government.
"So people in the theaters had a role in organizing people into political or oppositional movements," he said.
In "Temptation," Havel targets the political state of Eastern Europe.
Dr. Henry Foustka works in the Institute, a think-tank that battles against "irrational tendencies" in society. While serving the cause of science during the day, Foustka indulges in the study of black magic and the occult at night. He forms a relationship with Fistula, or the Devil, in an attempt to get more power.
In the end, Foustka realizes that the true devil is the state, which has corrupted science into a tool of political and spiritual oppression.
"(Havel) takes the Faust myth seriously but uses it as a vehicle for parody of the impact of the state on human beings," Gronbeck-Tedesco said. "His characters are realistic but also improbable. They live in situations that have distorted their nature, and they've been misshapened by their political and physical environment. They move in tango dance rhythms and are subjected to the flights of ego of those in charge."
The "temptation" that Foustka faces is trying to outsmart the regime and obtain self-determination and autonomy.
"But you can't outfight the Iron Curtain morass by one's self," Gronbeck-Tedesco said. "People who think they can outsmart their surroundings are dead wrong. That's (Foustka's) hubris, his pride."
"Temptation" opens Friday and runs about two hours and 15 minutes.