Performances play Arden's Arcadia Stage through March 16. J.R. Sullivan directs Shawn Fagan as Hamlet, Scott Greer as Dr. John Faustus, Kate Udall as The Eternal Feminine, and Greg Wood as Dr. Martin Luther. Opening is Jan. 23.
According to Arden notes, "Wittenberg tells the fictional story — based on actual historical events — of the advent of the Protestant Reformation. Set during late October of 1517 in what is now Germany, this smart, sprightly and audacious battle of wits features Wittenberg University professors Dr. John Faustus (a man of appetites), Dr. Martin Luther (a man of faith) and their student Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (a youth struggling not only with his beliefs but also with his tennis game). Playwright David Davalos brings us the story behind the stories in a witty, charming and accessible exploration of reason versus faith…"
Playwright David Davalos stated in production notes, "I was always intrigued by imaginary meetings between historical figures. There was a PBS show called 'Meeting of the Minds' hosted by Steve Allen that I loved as a kid. The format was a chat show featuring actors impersonating famous people from history, all meeting together and talking. The inspiration for Wittenberg came from observing that Shakespeare cited Hamlet studying at Wittenberg University; playwright Christopher Marlowe placed Doctor Faustus on staff; and history had Martin Luther preaching and launching the Protestant Reformation there. As I considered the implications of those connections, I became fascinated with the idea of those three personalities joining at Wittenberg at the same time — a man of God, a man rebelling against God, and a young man searching for moral guidance — and how they might interact and clash in the period leading up to the stories that we already know of them."
A significant portion of the text is in iambic pentameter. Davalos stated, "This is where, in my mind at least, Hamlet becomes the Prince of Denmark; where Faustus eschews human connection and where Luther finally gets his 95 Theses, hammer and nails ready to roll." Davalos — a writer, director, actor and corporate communications consultant — lives outside Denver, CO. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and Ohio University. Some of his other plays include Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo Da Vinci (which premiered at the Arden during the 2002/03 season), New Yorick, New Yorick (a conflation of Hamlet with Death of a Salesman), Johnnius Caerson (a verse account of the Late Night TV Wars) and Darkfall (a modern sequel to "Paradise Lost").
The creative team includes Michael Philippi (set and lighting design), Elizabeth Covey (costume design), Jorge Cousineau (sound design) and Patricia G. Sabato (production stage manager).
Arden Theatre Company is located at 40 N. 2nd Street in Old City Philadelphia. For more information visit www.ardentheatre.org.
Wittenberg marks the 28th world premiere at the Arden and the 13th play under the auspices of The Independence New Play Showcase. Launched in 1999, the New Play Showcase generates support for the creation and development of new works of American theatre. Through this program, the Arden seeks to stage at least one world premiere production each season and to conduct a series of workshops of new work that culminates in free public readings.
Wittenberg is also a recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, established this year, providing funding for theatres with a track record of producing new work. Grants allow theatres to add rehearsal time for new plays with the full creative and production team. The foundation's hope is that more development time in rehearsal will contribute to stronger first productions. The Arden is one of 22 theatres honored with a grant this year and allowed the addition of one extra week of rehearsal, "an incredible benefit in producing a world premiere," according to Arden.