Review by Tulis McCall
(21 Mar 2011)
On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed his 95 theses against the selling of indulgences at the door of the All Saints', the Castle Church, marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
This play is an account of the days leading up to said nailing. And the brilliant little deal about these days was that this playwright said: What if Hamlet was a student at the same time Martin Luther was fomenting, and what if Dr. Faustus was a real person?
Not only is it a nifty premise, but David Davalos has done all the due diligence and follow through to make this a play that intrigues as well as challenges.
The two titans who occupy most of the hot air in the room are Faustus and Luther, both professors at Wittenberg. Luther teaches Principles of Christian Theology and tells his students “The language of the Lord speaks to our souls, not our minds. In moments of sudden understanding, God speaks to us. In lightning flashes of inspiration, God speaks to us. When you settle on a decision in the absolute certainty that it is the right decision, the best decision, the only decision - that is God whispering the conviction in your ear.”
These two disagree with every cell of their bodies and minds, and at the same moment they love and regard one another highly. Among his many talents Faustus is a naturopath and distributes herbs and libations liberally. As part of his services he also listens. When the headache burdened Luther arrives with tales of the indulgence-selling Tetzel, Faustus prescribes something he received from one of his Muslim friends called “qahfe” (coffee). Boil the beans and drink the brew to relieve your bowels, and write to relieve your brain he tells Luther. The subjects change and the leave-taking is terse.
FAUSTUS: (As LUTHER heads out.) Aren’t you even going to congratulate me?
LUTHER: Congratulations. With qualifications.
FAUSTUS: I wouldn’t expect it any other way, you sentimental little girl.
LUTHER: Save your soul, John!
FAUSTUS: Free your mind, Martin!
We gallop along thusly until the moment then the theses are posted on an office door with copies in the mail.
All of this could come across as didactic and dull, but it does not. The main reason for this is the splendid performance of Scott Greer who brings vibrancy and plenty of juice to Faustus. He is a man with an appetite for life, who wants so much he sometimes worries that he would make a pact with the Devil to satisfy his desires. It is because of Greer’s performance that the rest of the cast have sticking places to which they can attach themselves. Chris Mixon as Luther is allowed to be pompous and pure. Hamlet (Sean McNeil) is on the cusp of life when he is called back to Denmark. Joey Parsons is not so fortunate to have a clear purpose as she is simply called “The Eternal Feminine”. It seems Davalos’ ingenuity ended with an exploration of men only. What a shame that he fell err to this oversight the way so many of his colleagues have.
It is an exciting evening of theatre that will make you look at the past as truly the foundation for the present with its entire three dimensional glory and all the many senses finding the perfect indulgences. You should pardon the pun.
"Your brain is sprained, and your time is out of joint," professor John Faustus tells star pupil Hamlet early on in "Wittenberg." And the line, with its playful verbiage and Shakespeare sampling, illustrates the modus operandi of this exceptionally smart comedy by David Davalos."
Ron Cohen for Back Stage