I’m a real sucker for Shakespeare and, on top of that, love it when people riff off of him. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one of my favorite plays of all time and Wittenberg is joining it on my top ten after seeing it at The Peterborough Players Wednesday night.
Looking at Shakespeare and his characters from a philosophical point of view is entrancing to me. Wittenberg feels like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s cousin, but more focused on Hamlet himself.
This show features my three favorite topics: philosophy, theology, and Shakespeare. Each is represented by the character’s who bear the shows focus: Faustus, of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Martin Luther, the leader of the protestant reform, and Hamlet hailing from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. All these characters, real and fictional, all cross paths at the University of Wittenberg, October 1517. If you are familiar with Hamlet, you know that Wittenberg is the university Hamlet was attending before he had to return home for the death of his father.
The show really deals with making choices, something which Hamlet himself is famously bad at. As Hamlet struggles in the play he is advised by both Faustus and Luther. They attempt to lead him down different paths as he struggles with what choice he wants to make. It becomes an interesting look at philosophy vs. theology. It’s the battle of wits I didn’t know I needed.
Now, while I don’t know a lot about Dr. Faustus (I admit, I skimmed the play itself but now have the intention of really reading it) I certainly know a lot about Hamlet and Shakespeare. This show has many references to Shakespeare, some very obvious some not so. Every subtle reference had me bouncing up and down in my seat out of excitement.
Now I have to give a shout out to the most clever joke I’ve ever heard in my life. At one point Hamlet apologizes to Faustus for touching something that wasn’t his. Faustus replies “That’s what it’s there for.” and Hamlet replies “Wherefore?” Having just played Juliet in a production of Romeo and Juliet this summer I know that while many think when Juliet says ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ she is asking where is he, but wherefore mean why, so she is actually saying ‘Why Romeo?’ So the joke is clever not only on the obvious level, but also because wherefore means “why.” He’s asking “why is it there for that?” And in that moment I completely understood that joke and it made my life better.
The show is full of genius humor, genius philosophy, and is all brought to life in a genius production. I would go see it a second time if I could. Three times. Four times. Infinite times if I could. I plan on buying the play book just so I can read it and remember seeing this incredible show.
The cast pulled off the amazing material perfectly. Every character was actualized perfectly, all coming off as relatable and presenting the point of view of their character’s without coming off as preach-y, which can happen at times when presented with such a philosophy ridden script.
Tom Frey as Martin Luther really humanized a person I’ve only really seen as a historical figure. Chris Mixon as Faust was iconic and hilarious while still bringing up thought provoking questions. And, as someone with big opinions on Hamlet as a character, I was very pleased with Jeremy Beck’s performance. The play also features a character, the Eternal Feminine, who represents the female presence in the lives of the men of the show. She’s played by Sara Kennedy, who impressed me with her constant switching of character’s personalities (as well as costumes and wigs, I know that can be difficult).
The play is also directed by Keith Stevens, who directed me a couple years back in Free Will, another play featuring Shakespeare characters with a touch of philosophy. And of course I was excited to see this show, knowing what a great director Keith is. So seeing Wittenberg definitely gave me some good nostalgia.
I genuinely felt so enlightened and delighted when I left the theatre. This is really a play for you if you’re like me and love intellectual stimulation hand-in-hand with your comedy.
The Players bill the play as a tragically-comical-historical, rated PG-13.
Wittenberg opened Wednesday and runs through September 10.
Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. There is also an additional matinee performance on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. There are Talkbacks with the cast following the first Friday and Sunday performances and a Cabaret following the performances on Saturdays.
The Peterborough Players is located at 55 Hadley Road in Peterborough.