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Reviewed by Sarah Lockwood
Wittenberg, Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare’s contribution to the Acts of Faith Festival, will spin you for a loop. The witty play is set in the small German town of Wittenberg, which is a part of the backstory of three iconic lives – Shakespeare’s fictional Hamlet, Germany’s mythical Dr. John Faustus and the very real Martin Luther. Playwright David Davalos weaves these three stories together for the intertextual masterpiece that is Wittenberg.
If you can’t summon your Shakespeare, or a history of religions courses at the drop of a hat, be sure to read your program before the curtain lifts at the Richmond Triangle Players stage. The quick brush-up will be worth it when you’re in on the jokes.
And the jokes are plentiful, from witty wordplay to low blows to Hamlet’s manhood. “It doth subside.” But the stitch in your side won’t. Everything seems funnier in Old English.
Beneath the layer of clever and silly humor, lies an age-old debate: reason versus faith. Hamlet, philosophy and theology student at Wittenberg University is the bewildered rope in a tug of war between dueling professors Dr. Faustus and the Reverend Martin Luther.
Jeffrey Cole steals the show as Faustus. And it wasn’t just the absurd way he shakes his puffy Elizabethan breeches as his sings to a pub. His comedic timing and voices were spot on; he connected with the audience like we were sharing an inside joke.
While it’s hard not to play favorites, the rest of the cast is incredibly deserving as well. Stacie Rearden Hall, the eternal feminine, should win an award for quick costume changes. Plus she shares her beautiful voice in an unexpected mash-up of Que Sera, Sera and the Beatles. The hilarity of Dixon Cashwell’s flawless delivery of a tongue twister monologue as Hamlet can only be matched by his ownership of a marshmallow-like tennis costume that you have to see to believe.
And finally, Andrew Hamm’s sincere performance as Martin Luther provides insight into the heart of a conflicted clergyman and an excellent foil to Cole’s sly Doc Faustus. The two counter each other well – the proverbial devil and angel on each shoulder.
Wittenberg excels under Paul Nicholas’ direction. I commend the rest of team for the design of a believable one-man tennis game and for involving the audience as members of a pub, a clergy, a classroom.
Speaking of audience, this is certainly an adult show. While there’s no nudity or f-bombs, the not-so-subtle sexual content is inappropriate for young ears – and eyes.
If you’ve never been to the Richmond Triangle Players playhouse, you’re in for a treat. Tucked away on an unassuming side street, the lobby boasts a full bar and half of the intimate theatre provides café tables for easy in-house refreshments. Just don’t spit your drink in a fit of laughter as you enjoy Wittenberg.
Who knew the Protestant reformation could be so humorous?
Wittenberg plays at Richmond Triangle Players through April 19. Tickets available at Henley Street Theatre or call (804) 340-0115.