Hamlet is more indecisive than ever in “Wittenberg,” and who can blame him? He’s a student at the University of Wittenberg, where two professors — the worldly, eager-to-sin Dr. John Faustus and the solemn, pious Rev. Martin Luther — are pulling him in different directions, when they’re not bantering with each other.
“Save your soul, John,” says Luther.
“Free your mind, Martin,” replies Faustus.
“Wittenberg” — which is being presented at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison through Sept. 28 — is a sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes giddily frenetic comedy about some pretty big topics: the literary, theological and philosophical references come so fast and furiously you’d have to have advanced degrees in all three areas, and see the play a few times, to get them all.
Still, if you miss one, it’s no big deal. Another one will be coming soon.
In the New Jersey premiere of David Davalos’ 2008 play, directed by Joseph Discher, Anthony Marble gets the juicy role of Faustus, and makes the most of it. This Faustus is a charismatic questioner, and Davalos is clearly on his side. Many of the play’s biggest laughs are derived directly from his irreverence. At one point, Luther is constipated, and Faustus chides him: “God made the universe in six days. I don’t think you’re really trying.”
Luther, played by Mark H. Dold, is little more than a dour Major Burns to his high-flying Hawkeye Pierce. Jordan Coughtry is sweet and a bit goofy as Hamlet, and skillfully executes the physical comedy of a scene where he’s playing tennis while on drugs. (Yes, there are some really silly moments here, and Davalos isn’t above getting low-brow laughs from high-brow subject matter.
Completing the cast, Erin Partin plays a variety of female parts, but they’re all tangential to the main action.
The direction and staging is tasteful but unobtrusive, which is good — the point of this play is just getting its two main characters together, and letting the intellectual zingers fly.
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I had the pleasure of seeing “Wittenberg” Sunday night and heartily concur with this favorable review. One of my favorite silly lines went “The Dane’s pain is mainly in the brain.”