“Wittenberg” Shows the Fight For Hamlet’s Soul
Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare will present David Davalo’s Wittenberg, directed by J. Paul Nicholas, at the Richmond Triangle Players Playhouse from March 27 to April 19 as a part of the Richmond Acts of Faith Festival.
I like to think that Wittenberg is basically a prequel to Shakespeare’s Hamlet; it portrays two Wittenberg University professors – Dr. Faustus, a professor of high reason, and Reverend Martin Luther, a deeply religious man – battling to win over young Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark and a student at the University. As Hamlet struggles with his father’s death, his religious views, and his tennis game, Dr. Faustus and Martin Luther squabble over the best way to teach Hamlet about his faith, resulting in highly entertaining yet thought-provoking disputes on reason and faith.
In case you didn’t realize, Wittenberg bases its main characters on original characters, real and fictional. Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation, taught at Wittenberg University; Hamlet is Hamlet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Shakespeare specifically dictated him as a college graduate of Wittenberg University); Dr. Faustus lived in Wittenberg and was educated there in the play Dr. Faustus. Dr. Faustus is actually based on a real character, so he cradles the line between real and fictional.
“Dr. Faustus is what’s really interesting because there was a real man called Dr. Faust, which many people believe the play, the opera, and the mythical story of the accomplishments of this man was based on this German man,” said J. Paul Nicholas, the Director of the production.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to know all about the Protestant Reformation or Sparknote Hamlet before you go see the play. “[If you] know about Luther’s writings or if you know the play Hamlet back and forth, it’ll be even funnier, but you certainly will understand the play even if you don’t know [specifics of the characters]. The play is dealing with ideas we talk about even today, such as faith versus freethinking, that’s basically what it’s about. And the jokes are funny no matter what,” said Nicholas.
Wittenberg stars Dixon Cashwell, Jeffrey Cole, Stacie Rearden Hall, and Andrew Hamm, all actors and/or comedians based in Richmond. “I think I [have] the most talented actors in Richmond working on this play. They’re so funny and so smart and so much fun to work with. We are having a great time rehearsing so far,” said Nicholas.
As for being family-friendly, it’s really up to your own discretion. There is a sex scene, meant to be funny, but there is no nudity. The sex scene is actually straight from the Bible. The complexity and wordiness of the jokes may not be suitable for children, but hey, to each his own.
Wittenberg, if it doesn’t make you laugh, will surely leave you with something to think about. “You’re gonna have a great time and you’re gonna laugh a lot, but when you leave we’re gonna make you think. The play doesn’t take sides, it’s pretty neutral, but it does throw a lot of provocative ideas out there and makes you think,” said Nicholas.
After each Sunday matinee, there will be talkbacks with the cast and special hosts- on April 6, the Coordinating Manager of the Acts of Faith Festival, Terry Menefee Gau, will join, and on April 13, the Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, Alex Evans, will join.
I’m Jessica, an intern at RVAMag and GayRVA. I am studying elementary education at Virginia Commonwealth University and I love to write about almost anything, especially if it involves kids, the environment, or music. I moved to Richmond from South Korea six years ago and have been living here since. When I’m not interning, I like to read, rock climb, hike, and come up with healthier ways to eat ramen.
BOTTOM LINE: Slapstick Shakespeare done well.January 30, 2017
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