Aloe Blacc’s "I’m the Man” is burning up my iPod. Hearing Elton’s “Your Song” melody mashed up with new lyrics lets me feel the magic all over again. For Shakespeare fans, Wittenberg is the theatre equivalent—familiar riffs from the past updated with a modern groove. Beloved phrases are dropped like beats throughout this “what if” take on the university mentioned briefly at the beginning of Hamlet.
Playwright David Davalos was inspired to write Wittenberg while playing Rosencrantz in Hamlet—a minor character who reached new heights of fame in Tom Stoppard’s Shakespearean twist Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. When Davalos discovered that the real Wittenberg had also produced characters like Martin Luther and John Faustus, it was a no-brainer. His Wittenberg upends the space-time continuum to make Luther and Faustus the most hilarious BFFs since Felix and Oscar.
With the exception of a couple of overwrought monologues, the action moves quickly and the stage wizards at the Aurora whirl the set through a quirky college town with a penchant for synthetically induced happiness, not too unlike Berkeley.
The talented cast is up to the many tasks. Aurora newcomer Michael Stevenson’s Professor Faustus doubles as a cheeky dive bar troubadour, providing an additional “anything goes” dimension as well as some damn fine strumming. Jeremy Kahn’s Hamlet strikes the right balance between cordial and confused. It was delightful to see him after a stellar turn as a young (and decidedly uncourtly) Bill Gates in last year’s First. Aurora alums Dan Hiatt and Elizabeth Carter also give strong performances. Carter’s seamless shifts between four different female roles ranging from bar wench to the Virgin Mother herself are striking and solid.
Who will like this play? Anyone who enjoys a cosmic cocktail party of history makers and doesn’t mind a dash of Beavis & Butthead. This one’s not for the kids, with a dervishly executed simulated sex scene and loads of potty humor. Scatalogical yes, gratuitous no. Luther actually did get the inspiration for his manifesto while on the loo, thank you very much. Just another clever way of seeing what you already knew...in a whole new light.
And you can tell everybody…I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man…
Now playing through May 4, tix here.
Photo credit: David Allen