Wittenberg: You might want to consider another school

Publicity photo for Wittenberg

Matthew Bissett and Misha Kobiliansky are both terrific in Wittenberg.
(Photo by Nancy Caldwell)

Director Adam Henderson and his team are giving Wittenberg a precise, committed, and creative production. But, despite its intellectual ambitions, the play itself is boring.

Writer David Davalos has set his script at Hamlet’s university, Wittenberg, in Germany, and it’s 1517, so Hamlet is currently enrolled. One of the prince’s profs is the fictional central character from Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy Dr. Faustus — although, when we meet Dr. John Faustus in Wittenberg, he hasn’t sold his soul to the devil yet. Dr. Faustus’s best friend and intellectual sparring partner is Martin Luther, the real-life historical figure who was a key player in the Protestant Reformation.

The body of the play consists of debates between Faustus and Luther, with Faustus championing agnosticism and Luther taking the side of faith.

Davalos’s sympathies are obviously with the swaggering, wise-cracking, sexually hungry Faustus. There’s a huge tell. When Luther wrote his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, it was a historically pivotal act of religious rebellion: in his theses, Luther decried the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which allowed the faithful to buy absolution for their sins. In doing so, he challenged the authority of the pope, which got him excommunicated. But Davalos goes so far in setting Luther up as a religious conservative — in contrast to the more freewheeling Faustus, that, in Davalos’s telling, it’s Faustus who makes public Luther’s challenge to the church. By denying Luther’s courage, Davalos rigs the debate in Faustus’s favour — and this is just the most egregious example of how he does that.

The arguments between Faustus and Luther also become brutally repetitive.

The famously indecisive Hamlet is in the middle of all of this, torn between his teachers’ approaches and psychologically dislocated by the intellectual upheavals of the time. When Hamlet hears about Copernicus’s proof that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, the idea literally sets him staggering. [Read more…]

Crystal Pite’s Body and Soul

Crystal Pite's Body and Soul is playing at the Paris Opera

“She has shown us before how skilled she is at evoking both the individuality of the mass and the individual within the mass.”(Photo by Julien Benhamou, Opéra d Paris)



What has made Crystal Pite “one of the dance world’s most sought-after artists” (The Guardian) is not simply the ravishing movement sequences that she invents. Her dance-works are animated thoughts about the complicated miracle of being human in the universe—ongoing statements from an evolving worldview. She seems to want to touch the core of meaning, to glimpse, even for a moment, the why of it all (or not even that—the what of it all, the mechanics of existence). Through simple and unaffected images and metaphors that she manufactures from the unique language of human physicality—from dance—she invites us to join her in considering the enduring mysteries of the human condition. [Read more…]

Revisor: conceptually seductive, emotionally not so much

Kidd Pivot is presenting Revisor at the Vancouver Playhouse.

The guy is on fire: Doug Letheren as the Deputy. (Photo by Michael Slobodian. Costume by Nancy Bryant)




I was dazzled by the skill, intellectually intrigued, and emotionally and viscerally removed.

With Revisor, writer Jonathon Young and choreographer Crystal Pite sink deep into Nikolai Gogol’s play, which is best known as The Inspector General.

Gogol’s 1842 script was inspired by a Russian story that might be true. When the Deputy (or Mayor) of a small town gets a tip that a government inspector is about to arrive incognito, the Deputy and his fellow officials madly scramble to cover up their corruption and misdeeds. When the bureaucrats mistake a minor civil servant for the inspector, the clerk recognizes their error, happily accepts their bribes—and plots to expose them.

Revisor employs two main stylistic modes. In the first, the performers lip sync to recordings of actors speaking Young’s dialogue, while embodying the characters with extreme expressionistic movement. It’s kind of like a drag version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. [Read more…]

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