Theatre Review: “Wittenberg”
Wittenberg is a city in Germany possibly most famous for the Castle Church, where in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to its door. Luther was also a professor at University of Wittenberg, where the story of David Davalos’ comedy Wittenberg, directed by J. Paul Nicholas for Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare’s production, takes place.
In Davalos’ version, Dr. Faustus, whose name you may recognize from Christopher Marlowe’s genius play about a man who sells his soul to the devil, is a professor of philosophy at Wittenberg. In the Marlowe play Wittenberg is where Faustus came to study. In “Wittenberg,” Luther again takes up his post as a professor of theology at the University.
Faustus and Luther vie for the pupilage of a student at the school who just happens to be young Prince Hamlet, of Shakespeare’s Hamlet fame. In the renowned play that bears his name, it is mentioned that Hamlet attended the University of Wittenberg. “Wittenberg”’s Hamlet is feeling a little uncertain about his future and has been suffering from frequent nightmares. Faustus and Luther take Hamlet under their tutelage and try to convince him whether or not it would be best to take a philosophical or theological approach to his studies as well as his life.
Davalos presents Hamlet as a high school senior, class of 1518, who loves tennis and astronomy. Philosopher Faustus moonlights at a club called “The Bunghole” performing anachronistic contemporary pop rock songs in his downtime. Martin Luther is an impassioned man on the verge of kicking off the Protestant Reformation, probably the most historically accurate character depiction in Davalos’ story.
Predictably, Faustus and Luther do not see eye to eye on most issues, which creates a fantastic war of words between the two. Davalos concept of putting all of these historical figures at the University at the same time provides some hilarious and heated debates and a substantial amount of sophisticated and often confusing word play that any history buff will surely eat up.
The production features an evenly talented ensemble cast. All of the actors tackle the at-times verbose and complicated script with ease. Dixon Cashwell is charming as Hamlet, scurrying around and intently furrowing his brow as his talented and wise professors teach him valuable life lessons. Jeffrey Cole is sly and smooth as Faustus, exhibiting self-confidence and manliness that serves as a bit of a foil to Andrew Hamm’s more reserved portrayal of the tightly wound Luther. Stacie Rearden Hall is charming and gorgeous in the part of “The Eternal Feminine” stepping in where there is a need for a feminine touch in the script.
The set by Tennessee Dixon is gorgeous, with Tudor style walls hand painted on the backdrop, a sign that is raised up and down to represent the change in scene to the pub where Faustus performs, “The Bunghole,” and large renaissance style furniture. Jocelyn Bowman’s costumes are finely crafted with excellent attention to detail, a real pleasure to observe.
All in all, Wittenberg is a fun ride, that unfortunately slows down a little too much in the second act to maintain the same level of attentiveness from the audience. Which is no fault of the talented actors and director, as Davalos’ script just can’t seem to match the level of “pep” in the first act.
“Wittenberg” is playing at Richmond Triangle Players through April 19th.
www.henleystreettheatre.org for details
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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