Coming up this week at Pacific Theatre is a staged reading of Wittenberg by David Davalos. Like Pacific Theatre’s last staged reading of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis, this play takes the historical, theological, literary, and scientific, and crams it all into one play.
This one takes three iconic characters, Hamlet, Dr. Faustus, and Martin Luther, all associated with Germany’s Wittenberg University, and supposes what might happen if they were all there at the same time. What you get is an intellectually irreverent story that could very well be the prequel not only to Hamlet’s tragedy, but to the fall of Faustus and the Protestant Reformation itself.
Loaded with discourse and heavy ideas, Wittenberg is surprisingly light in its tone. Fans of Shakespeare, the history of the Church, or the legend of Faustus will enjoy playing “spot the reference” as the play is full of little Easter eggs from all those stories and more. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Luther actually had the inspiration that lead to the Protestant Reformation while sitting on the toilet, so you can guess what brand of humour is used to lighten this argument over faith and intellect.
Playing Martin Luther is Marcus Youssef, a Vancouver-based actor and playwright. Luther is, of course, well known for his role in starting the Protestant Reformation by nailing is 95 Theses to the door of the church. In Wittenberg we meet him on the eve of his revelation of salvation through faith (not works).
In the role of Dr. Faustus is Anthony F. Ingram, another prodigious actor and director-about-town. Dr. Faustus is best known as a cautionary tale for having sold his soul to the devil some say for wealth and knowledge, others say for the love of a woman. The historical figure that inspired the myth was also known to be a doctor of medicine, a dream interpreter, alchemist, and a magician.
In the spirit of the collegial debates on theology and philosophy that fill this play, we’ve asked the two actors playing Martin Luther and Dr. Faustus to answer 10 questions on life and faith from the perspective of their characters, as interpreted by David Davalos’ play.
What’s the point of the Bible?
Marcus/Martin Luther: To communicate the word of God to us.
Anthony/Dr. Faustus: I love the Bible. It’s a great read. It’s got everything: sex, violence, red dragons with seven heads. If you read it closely enough, you can find a justification for anything. That’s pretty impressive – one hell of a book.
Who do you follow, above all others?
F: My own conscience.
How do you know if something is true?
ML: If it’s in the bible, or if God chooses to reveal his will to me, in prayer.
F: Read, question, discuss, explore, test, doubt, defy convention. Don’t settle for “because I said so,” or “because that’s the way it’s always been.” No-one has all the answers. Yet. Above all, think for yourself. Granted, about those things which we cannot think, we must believe. But about those things which we cannot believe, we must think.
Who goes to heaven?
ML: The righteous who have lived according to God’s will.
F: Are you saying it’s up to me? Well, in that case it shall be a very short list…
What is God’s greatest concern?
ML: Human salvation.
F: I’m not at all sure, but if it’s us he must not have very much to worry about.
What is Satan’s greatest concern?
ML: Being weaker than God.
F: I don’t know, but he seems to spend a lot of time hanging around in public bathrooms.
What is your greatest concern?
ML: Living according to the word of god. And, to be truthful, moving my bowels on a fairly regular basis.
F: The search for Ultimate Truth. With the state of your bowels coming a close second.
Who would you like to have a meal with?
ML: God. But I recognize the vanity in this.
F: Anyone with an open mind and open purse.
Whose instruction will you always follow? (Not a divine being)
ML: The Bibles’.
F: My Psychiatrist.
What is your motto?
ML: God moves in mysterious ways, especially when I’m moving my bowels. A joke. Sorry.
F: “If they’re not crucifying you for your beliefs, then you haven’t gone far enough.”
Wittenberg plays from Oct. 31- Nov. 10 at Pacific Theatre. For info and tickets visit www.pacifictheatre.org.