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'Wittenberg' wins on stage (and on the court)

Contemporary playwright David Davalos boldly and brilliantly introduces the historical personage Dr. Martin Luther to fictional characters Dr. Faustus and Hamlet in “Wittenberg.” This prequel to “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is also something of a tribute to Shakespeare. In 1517 young Prince Hamlet returns to the University of Wittenberg (a real university in Germany now named for Martin Luther). Hamlet is counseled by his two favorite professors, the fictional Dr. Faustus and the historical Dr. Luther. These two professors have, of course, completely opposite philosophical and theological opinions. Yet they are the best of friends as they debate over, around and through their bright young student. The play is full of wonderful references and double entendres laced with exceedingly potent humor.

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park presents “Wittenberg” through August 1 in their new indoor and very intimate space in the Paseo district. Director Richard Nelson’s thoughtful and honest direction is daring enough to do justice to the hilarity and philosophy of the playwright.

The excellent cast performs with inspiring and thoughtful interaction and humorous color. Erick Rivera portrays Laertes (offstage) and Bart ‘Lefty’ Bartholomew, the musician. The roles are small but Rivera is no small actor and he creates the exact mood required to begin the show with his song. Emily Brooks is the Eternal Feminine: Gretchen, a working wench; Helen, a lady of pleasure; by Mary, Mother of God; and lastly the Danish Ambassador, Lady Voltemand. Brooks imbues sensitivity and sensibility into each character distinctly and beautifully.

Tommy Stuart is Hamlet. He is intelligent, youthfully exuberant, handsome and sensitive—exactly as one expects from Hamlet. Stuart has an understanding of the character that is boyish and carefree, making the tragedy to come all the more poignant. Stuart is already a truly honest actor, and his Hamlet is a tribute to Shakespeare. Mark Loftis is Dr. John Faustus, commanding and controlled, impulsive and teetering on the edge of mania without ever going over. With impeccable timing and intuition, Loftis brings to life a brilliantly flawed genius with the genius of a brilliantly flawless performance. His work is a tribute to the creator of Faustus, Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe.

Doug Brown is Dr. Martin Luther, the only historical personage. Luther is dedicated, pious, idealistic, realistic and a little stubborn—all of which sharpens the witty exchanges with Faustus. Brown’s portrayal is all of those in a voice filled with spice. His Luther shows us faith as it should be, espousing the limited understanding of the Church of his time with integrity as well as humor. Brown’s his work is a very human tribute to Luther’s Creator. And all of this is possible because of Davalos’ very witty script and Nelson’s very astute direction.

“Wittenberg” is performed in period, making the technical contributions of scenic design by Ben Hall, costume design by Robert Pittenridge, lighting design by Scott C. Hynes and properties by Larz Hoban (in period costume!) integral to the success of this show. Dramaturg Kae Koger brings invaluable research to the production, with helpful material in the lobby. Original music by Erick Rivera adds to the atmospheric aesthetics. Technical perfection from stage manager Christine Jolly and assistant stage manager Amandanell Bold adds to the atmospheric reliability.

“Wittenberg” is an essential for anyone who likes to laugh and anyone who likes to think, but especially those who do both. The show has an 8:00 curtain Thursday, July 30, through Saturday, August 1, 2015. There is very limited seating and time is short; do not delay in calling 405-235-3700 for reservations, or visiting for more information. This is the first full production in Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s Paseo location at 2920 Paseo, a great addition to the Paseo district in Oklahoma City.

And be prepared to cheer for UW at the tennis match: “Go, Wittenberg!”

Elizabeth Hurd

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