Entertainment

   

Wittenberg

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November 1, 2012
5:00 am

Wittenberg, Germany, is a large university town and the birthplace of the Reformation, where Martin Luther nailed to the door of the local cathedral his proclamation against the Catholic Church. The city is also home to Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s play of that name, and its famous university, apparently, the alma mater of Prince Hamlet.

The historical-revisionist conceit of American playwright David Davalos’ Wittenberg, performed here by Red Stitch Actors Theatre, is that all three figures—Luther, Faustus, and Hamlet—could have met and interacted. Breaking all rules of time, space, and literary reality, the result is a postmodern romp, a comedy that makes great use of the improbability of its own premise, playing with intertextual references, anachronisms, and many a Shakespearean pun.

The year is 1517. Hamlet (Brett Ludeman) is a keen undergraduate, but yet to decide on a major. His professors, Faustus (Ezra Bix) and Luther (Josh Price) fight for his intellectual attention, espousing on matters theoretical and spiritual. Ending where Shakespeare’s Hamlet begins, Wittenberg is also a prequel of sorts, prefiguring, through the Prince’s interactions with his mentors, the same philosophical quandaries with which Shakespeare’s own protagonist grapples.

Under Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ direction, the three leads make an unlikely but balanced trio. Ludeman’s sweet Hamlet is a foil to both the uptight Luther and Bix’s machinating Faustus. Played less as a villain and more as a naughty uncle, Faustus steals the credit in Davalos’ script for not only many of Hamlet’s best lines but also the revolutionary act that made Luther famous. Red Stitch ensemble actor Olga Makeeva is underused in the three minor female roles.

As Faustus and Luther act as two opposing poles on the philosophical spectrum, so to does Davalos’s text sometimes seem torn between an overly clever comic edge and the more sombre meditations that connect it to its literary sources. With a premise that could easily become little more than a punchline (Hamlet, Faust, and Luther walk into a campus bar…), it is credit to Griffiths’ control of the material and the cast’s strong characterisation that a balance is achieved.

Wittenberg is playing at Red Stitch Actors Theatre, St Kilda, until Nov 3.
For more information and tickets visit redstitch.net.


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