THE NEW JERSEY PREMIERE OF AWARD-WINNING CONTEMPORARY PLAY WITTENBERG AT THE SHAKESPEARE THEATRE
MADISON, NJ —The Shakespeare Theatre is proud to present the New Jersey premiere of the award-winning play Wittenberg by David Davalos, in which he ingeniously manipulates time and space to unite an unusual trio—Doctor Faustus, Martin Luther, and Hamlet—for a witty and provocative debate about faith, fate, existence, and tennis. The “big questions,” the enigmas that eternally puzzle mankind, are given clever and delightfully quirky forum in this contemporary riff on the age-old and eternal conudrums. The Washington Post promises, Wittenberg “should delight Tom Stoppard fans, recovering English majors, disillusioned academics and anyone who has ever wondered what Helen of Troy was like in the sack.”
Performances begin September 10 at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, 36 Madison Avenue in Madison. Tickets start at $25 for preview performances and $32 for regular performances. Student rush tickets for all performances are $15, available a half-hour before curtain for with a valid student ID. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visitwww.ShakespeareNJ.org.
A play that the Philadelphia Inquirer winkingly celebrates as “Finally—a decent Protestant Reformation comedy!”, Wittenberg begins in northern Germany, the year 1517, on the University of Wittenberg campus. Young Hamlet, prince of Denmark, is a senior, unsure of his beliefs after an eye-opening summer spent studying abroad. Upon his return to school, he seeks guidance from his two trusted professors—philosopher John Faustus and theologian Martin Luther.
Inspiration struck when Davalos, an actor as well as playwright, worked on a production of Hamlet. As he listened in the wings to the young prince’s speeches, he considered the prince’s intellectual and religious background, the foundation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Both Hamlet’s mother Gertrude and his scheming uncle, the new king Claudius, plead with the prince to “go not to Wittenberg,” declaring “for your intent in going back to school in Wittenberg, it is most retrograde to our desire” (Act I, scene ii). Davalos, speaking with the San Antonio Current, said he began to wonder, “what was Hamlet doing in school before Hamlet?”
After nearly eight years of research, Wittenberg premiered in 2008 at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company. The New York premiere followed in 2011; The New York Times declared, “Hilarity, thy name is Wittenberg.”
Davalos deftly combines historical fact and literary fiction in Wittenberg. Martin Luther was the Catholic priest and German monk who protested, amongst many other things, the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences and confronted the practice by penning his Ninety-Five Theses, a scalding indictment of the Catholic Church’s abuses of power. He famously nailed the pages to the doors of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. Luther was excommunicated and exiled; he became the figurehead of the Protestant Reformation, the movement that ruptured the Catholic Church.
Davalos sets his play Wittenberg mere weeks before Luther’s rebellious act. The university depicted in the play, moments before the start of the Protestant Reformation, is, as Davalos described to the San Antonio Current, “a time and place somewhat like Berkeley in the 1960s, a center for intellectual ferment” and “a certain amount of rebellion.”
Unlike Luther, the character of Doctor Faust is literary fiction, nearly as famous as Hamlet. Beginning as a German legend about a learned scholar who strikes a deal with the Devil—exchanging his soul for earthly pleasures—Faust was most famously depicted in Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus and Goethe’s early-19th century editions of Faust. In Goethe’s interpretations, Faust and the Devil travel through time, meeting Helen of Troy; the infamous beauty appears in Davalos’s script as well.
David Davalos is s a graduate of the theatre programs at the University of Texas and Ohio University. Some of his plays include Daedalus: A Fantasia of Leonardo da Vinci, The Tragedie of Johnnius Caerson (a comedy in blank verse chronicling the Late Night telelvison Wars), and Darkfall (a modern sequel to “Paradise Lost”). For its premiere production at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre, Wittenberg received the 2008 Barrymore Award for Outstanding New Play. Davalos is also the recipient of the National Theatre Conference’s 2008 Stavis Playwriting Award.
As the moody, wavering college senior, Hamlet, Jordan Coughtry appears in his ninth season with The Shakespeare Theatre. An alumnus of Shakespeare LIVE! and the Next Stage Ensemble, Coughtry appeared on the Main Stage in last season’s Our Town as George Gibbs, Trelawny of the Wells and as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, among others. His regional credits include productions at Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Theatreworks, Arkansas Shakespeare Festival, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and The Shakespeare Theatre/RSC.
Mark H. Dold plays Reverend Martin Luther, a professor and confessor at the University of Wittenberg. Dold appeared in The Shakespeare Theatre’s productions of Our Town, Cymbeline, and Amadeus, all directed by Mr. Discher. He has worked extensively on and off-Broadway, notably appearing as C.S. Lewis in Freud’s Last Session at New World Stages and in The Seagull with Meryl Streep at the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Delacorte Theatre. Regionally, he served as Associate Artist at Barrington Stage Company for eight seasons.
As Luther’s foil, the philosophic Professor John Faustus, Anthony Marble returns to the Theatre where he played Sergius in Arms and the Man and Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. He’s worked with Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis, Swine Palace Theatre, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. He played a lead in the recent Syfy Channel movie Snakehead Swamp and appears in upcoming PBS special, The Mystery of Matter.
Shakespeare Theatre veteran Erin Partin returns to the Theatre as The Eternal Feminine, playing multiple roles including “a working girl,” “a lady of pleasure,” and Mary, the Mother of God. Partin last appeared as Ariel in the Theatre’s season-opening production of The Tempest. Recently, she played Ophelia in The Resident Ensemble Player’s production of Hamlet (Delaware). She has also appeared at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.
Joseph Discher is in his twenty-fourth season with The Shakespeare Theatre where he has directed Our Town, Henry IV, Part One, To Kill A Mockingbird, Arms and the Man (The Star-Ledger’s Top Ten in 2010), The Grapes of Wrath (The Star-Ledger’s Best Director in 2009), Of Mice and Men (The Star-Ledger’s Best Revival of the Year in 2004), The Fantasticks (The Star-Ledger’s Best Director of a Musical in 2001), Twelfth Night, and many others. Most recently, Discher directed the world premiere of Butler, by Richard Strand at New Jersey Repertory Company, and As You Like It at Theatreworks in Colorado Springs, where he also directed Red and The Weir.
The Artistic Staff
Creating the world of Wittenberg is scenic designer Brittany Vasta, costume designer Hugh Hanson, sound designer Steven L. Beckel, and lighting designer Matthew Adelson. Denise Cardarelli serves as production stage manager.
Tickets start at $25 for preview performances and $32 for regular performances. Student rush tickets for all performances are $15, available a half-hour before curtain for with a valid student ID. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
Discount preview performances for Wittenberg are Wednesday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday, September 11 and 12 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, September 13 at 2 p.m. These Preview performances offer opportunities for reduced-priced tickets while enjoying the excitement of the very first performances in front of an audience. As always, the first Preview performance is Pay What You Can night. Visit The Shakespeare Theatre Box Office between noon and curtain on September 10 and purchase a ticket for that evening’s 7:30 p.m. preview performance for what you are able to pay (offer subject to availability).
For no more than the cost of a regular ticket, three Symposium Series performances are offered for each show and include a post-play discussion with the cast and artistic staff. Symposium performances for Wittenberg will be Tuesday, September 16 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 20 and 27 at 2 p.m.
For each production, The Shakespeare Theatre presents the popular education program Know the Show. From 7:00 to 7:30 p.m., an artist from The Shakespeare Theatre will present a pre-performance talk that provides background information and an insider’s perspective on the production. The Know the Show performance will be held on Thursday, September 18 at 7:00 p.m. General admission is $5 for the general public, $4 for ticket package holders and subscribers. Tickets to that evening’s 8:00 p.m. performance may be purchased separately.
One of the leading Shakespeare theatres in the nation, serving 100,000 adults and children annually, The Shakespeare Theatre is New Jersey’s largest professional theatre company dedicated solely to Shakespeare’s canon and other world classics. Through its distinguished productions and education programs, the company strives to illuminate the universal and lasting relevance of the classics for contemporary audiences.