BWW Reviews: WITTENBERG is a Comedy with Smarts
There is something comical in the state of Denmark. Well, make that Germany. Since its first production in 2008, Wittenberg has played to rave reviews all over the world, but it has never played San Antonio, a staggering and puzzling piece of trivia considering that the author is San Antonio's own David Davalos.
As they say, good things are worth waiting for, and the San Antonio premiere of Wittenberg is well worth the wait. Davalos's wickedly smart play is a perfect choice for The Playhouse's Cellar Theater, and the cast, led by Davalos himself, couldn't be better.
Davalos's play is bold, absurd, anachronistic, and downright brilliant. The play imagines Hamlet's life as a student before all of those rotten murders in his home of Denmark. Hamlet studies at the University of Wittenberg under the tutelage of John Faustus, Professor of Philosophy, and Martin Luther, Professor of Theology. Their stories overlap and intersect in a manner that is both silly and smart, and several riffs on lines and moments from Hamlet and Doctor Faustus add to the fun. Davalos has written a clever and witty comedy, but he wants more than laughter. He clearly wants the audience to think, particularly about hypocrisy and the need for man to question everything, including religion. As Faustus says, "To believe or not to believe, that is the question."
A play this intelligent and quirky requires a brilliant cast, and the four person ensemble at The Playhouse does not disappoint. Sam Mandelbaum is more than capable of handling the Shakespeare-esque dialogue he gets as Hamlet (Davalos writes all of Hamlet's lines in iambic pentameter), and he's able to capture the cautiousness and inaction of the character without allowing him to become whiny and intolerable. Christina Casella is wonderful as all of the female characters in the show, and she particularly excels as Helen, a prostitute and Faustus's beloved. Andrew Thornton is fantastic as Martin Luther, and he does a splendid job at allowing his character's quiet frustration with the church boil over. And Davalos himself is outstanding as Doctor Faustus. Here, Faustus is a smart-ass savant. He's dry, sarcastic, and way before his time. Davalos plays the role with a wry, all-knowing smile and just the right amount of crassness. Watching Davalos and Thorton, who are former high school pals, engage in heated debates about the church is incredibly entertaining.
With its ingenious text and incredible cast, Wittenberg has the winning combination that all comedies hope for. If colleges were to get grades rather than their students, Wittenberg would easily get an A.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission.
WITTENBERG plays The Cellar Theater at The Playhouse, located at 800 W. Ashby Place, San Antonio, 78212, now thru November 17th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm with an additional performance at 8pm on November 17th. Tickets are $10-$25. For tickets and more information, please visit www.theplayhousesa.org