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What to pack if headed for Prince Hamlet’s alma mater, the university of Wittenberg? Shakespeare, Marlowe, Copernicus, a spot of Nietzsche, Freud, a tome specifying the properties of various hallucinogens and a copy of the revolutionary tract Martin Luther nailed to the neighbourhood church door – if, indeed, it was Luther who did so. Oh, and why not bring a Doris Day CD while you’re at it?
David Davalos has written a fiercely clever piece about a debate between Dr Faust the hedonist and Dr Luther the moralist (both professors at the University of Wittenberg). It is his exceptional achievement to bring all the above into a play without requiring the audience to acquire a passel of degrees to understand it. The more you know, the more sly cerebral jokes you will laugh at, and certainly a basic knowledge of ‘Hamlet’ is helpful, since the poor fellow is a student of both doctors and unable, unsurprisingly, to side with either.
Does free will exist and, if so, how should it be used? That is the question. It’s a question that the trio of male actors handle with grace and spirit. (There is an actress too, but she is not required to do nearly so much.)
Luther has faith, but his faith is in the Lord, not his money-grubbing church with its priapic popes. While Faust has a lot of fun, but he can’t get no satisfaction – not intellectually, anyway. Theological dispute doesn’t often feel relevant to the lives of secular theatre goers; but in witty Wittenberg, every word counts.