Wittenberg

Wittenberg
By David Davalos. Director: Jane Montgomery Griffiths. Red Stitch Actors Theatre (Vic). Oct 5 – Nov 3, 2012.

The premise isn’t rocket science, but it’s fresh enough. Suppose the fictitious Dr Faustus and the very real Martin Luther were both professors at Wittenberg University, and rivals for the mind/soul of young Prince Hamlet, an under-graduate who procrastinates between philosophy and theology…who would win?

Once you put aside the obvious…that two are fictitious characters, they all “lived” in different time frames, and obviously never met…the stage is set for a great discourse on Philosophy and Religion, particularly exploring the comic value of both. It requires a Tom Stoppard to make such a play cohesive and satisfying – and David Davalos is no Tom Stoppard. There are flashes of brilliance in the script:- dazzling wit, thought provoking hypotheses, delicious intellectual arguments: But all that potential falls in a heap in an underdeveloped second act which disintegrates; and a resolution – if one can call it that – which seems borne of desperation; a karaoke version of Que Sera, Sera (Faustus has a nightly gig at a local tavern).

Despite the fact that two of the three characters are driven by their obsession with a woman, The Eternal Feminine is given nothing of importance to do, except fill the stage in three small roles, two of which are of no importance. Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s greatest and deepest thinking characters, is caught between two strong male influences, and becomes no more than a puppet incapable of deep thought. Davalos even plays with the lines from the soliloquy, and wittily has Faustus creating “To be, or not to be” in a philosophical exploration of what being actually means. The play really needs to go back to the workshop stage to realise its full potential, and get rid of the childish Uni-undergrad flavour that is currently pervasive.

On the plus side, Ezra Bix as Faustus and Josh Price as Martin Luther are outstanding. Their comic business is a credit to Director Jane Montgomery Griffiths and they are never less than entertaining, even though Bix has to say such lines as “Leopard’s Bain; the Bain for brains of Danes in pain” (haha). They rise above the material and give the play a legitimacy it perhaps doesn’t deserve, both of them a joy to watch. Brett Ludeman has a thankless role as the under-written Hamlet but nevertheless seems miscast and Olga Makeeva, an interesting actress, is totally wasted as The Eternal Feminine. The Director has made great use of the space and the set works well. This is still a good night’s entertainment and well worth a look, but it is because the potential is there for it to be so much more, that ultimately it disappoints.

Coral Drouyn

Images: (top l-r) Ezra Bix, Brett Ludeman and Josh Price & (lower) Ezra Bix and  Olga Makeeva.

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