Doctor Faustus, Martin Luther, Hamlet gather at Shakespeare Theatre

” ‘Wittenberg’ should delight Tom Stoppard fans, recovering English majors, disillusioned academics and anyone who has ever wondered what Helen of Troy was like in the sack,” reads the press release from the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey about the David Davalos play in which Doctor Faustus, Martin Luther, and Hamlet are united.

Ooookay.

According to the press release, “Wittenberg” is “A play that the Philadelphia Inquirer winkingly celebrates as ‘a decent Protestant Reformation comedy!’  Witty observation. Wish I’d written it.

“Wittenberg” begins in northern Germany in 1517 on the University of Wittenberg campus. ( a real place.) Young Hamlet, prince of Denmark, (not a real person) is a senior, unsure of his beliefs after an eye-opening summer spent studying abroad. Upon his return to school, he seeks guidance from his two trusted professors—philosopher John Faustus (not real) and theologian Martin Luther (super real).

The play came about because Davalos was backstage during a production of “Hamlet.” While in the wings listening to the prince’s speeches, he began wondering what his life was like at school, especially after Gertrude and Claudius plead with the prince “go not to Wittenberg,” declaring “for your intent in going back to school in Wittenberg, it is most retrograde to our desire” (Act I, scene ii).

Kinda, like, maybe when Stoppard wondered how Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spend their time when not onstage during “Hamlet.”

Davalos sets his play a few  weeks before Luther takes his Ninety-Five Theses, an indictment of the Catholic Church’s abuses of power, and nailed the pages to the doors of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany on Oct. 31, 1517 (that must have been one interesting Halloween), in a move that fostered the Protestant Reformation. Davalos told the San Antonio Current, the “time and place (is) somewhat like Berkeley in the 1960s, a center for intellectual ferment” and “a certain amount of rebellion.”

Ooookay. Intellectual ferment and rebellion. The makings of a good play. Can’t wait.

 Davalos is a graduate of the theatre programs at the University of Texas and Ohio University. His plays include “Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo da Vinci,” “The Tragedie of Johnnius Caerson” (a comedy in blank verse chronicling the late night television wars), and “Darkfall” (a sequel to “Paradise Lost”). For its premiere production at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre, “Wittenberg” received the 2008 Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play. Davalos is also the recipient of the National Theatre Conference’s 2008 Stavis Playwriting Award.

“Wittenberg” is directed by Joseph Discher, who is in his 24th season with The Shakespeare Theatre. He has directed “Our Town,” “Henry IV, Part One,” “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Arms and the Man,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Fantasticks” and many more.

Performances begin Sept. 10 at the theater, 36 Madison Ave., Madison.  Tickets $25-$62, student rush tickets all performances for $15 a half-hour before curtain for with a valid ID.  Performances 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m.  Saturdays and Sundays.  Call  973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

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