Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A priest, a professor, and a prince meet at a German university. Amphibian Stage Productions finishes this intriguing joke in their brilliant production of Wittenberg by David Davalos.
Davalos’ feast for thought creation is a “what if” exercise that imagines encounters between Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, the reforming monk Martin Luther, and Shakespeare’s Danish prince, Hamlet, at the University of Wittenberg in 1517. There is a literary and historical (in Luther’s case) foundation for their mutual coexistence that provides a rich premise reminiscent of Tom Stoppard’s convergence of disparate personalities in Travesties.
Young Hamlet (Robert James Walsh) is a wishy-washy student who cannot decide on anything, including his major. To add to his already growing existential dilemma, he has two diametrically opposed university professors offering contradictory advice on how he should conduct his life.
Perched on one shoulder is philosophy professor Doctor Faustus (Brandon J. Murphy), a “miscreant” questioner of authority who dispenses equal parts of counter-culture wisdom and mind-expanding drugs, such as coffee and cannabis, when he isn’t trying to find true love in a woman’s bosom.
The angel on the other side is Father Luther (Jay Duffer) a theology professor wrestling with his own eroding devotion to the Catholic Church, but still steadfast in his hope in the saving power of faith and prayer.
David A. Miller directs this clever little piece with detailed verve and energetic spunk. Each erudite turn of phrase and hard-won literary pun finds its way to the audience in a practiced and natural flow. The performances are also up to the high standard set in the script and direction. Murphy’s Faustus pulls an acting robbery on the show. His wry, melodic delivery, his singing and guitar playing, and devilish meanderings through Sean Urbantke’s fantastic set are things of smooth beauty.
Duffer, as his professorial counterpart, plays incontinence and righteous incredulity with a stolid yet nimble approach. Walsh’s coltish Hamlet emphasizes the immature Dane’s formative inability to match action with thought and sets the stage for the beginning of his subsequent cautionary tale in Denmark.
Jule Nelson-Duac embodies The Eternal Feminine in her multi-faceted portrayal of a bar wench, a high-class prostitute, Mary Mother of God, and Voltemand (the Danish ambassador in Hamlet).
Amphibian has crafted a jewel of a play that interweaves snatches of the Bard’s plays with deeply satisfying humor from the Western Canon born of understanding that covers the gamut of psychology, classical to modern philosophy, astronomy, the Reformation, theology, and the game of tennis, to name a few.