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Wittenberg and The Hound of the Baskervilles

Jeanie's reviews of An Iliad and Smash

An Entertaining Production of David Davalos Wittenberg

Michael Stevenson, Elizabeth Carter and Jeremy Kahn
Photo by David Allen
The time is 1517 and the place is the German university Wittenberg in playwright David Davalos' Wittenberg. This tongue in cheek comedy ties three semi-historical figures together to debate faith, reason and knowledge which will forever change Western thought. Hamlet has just enrolled in the college after studying with Copernicus in Poland and he is suffering from hallucinations and nausea. His tennis game has weakened from these ailments, too. He is also under pressure to side with his two brilliant professors, the devout priest Martin Luther, who is inadvertently about to launch the Protestant Reformation, and philosopher Faustus, who's publicizing heresy and inventing psychiatry. No wonder Hamlet is in such tizzy.

The Aurora Theatre production is one hell of a comedy with meaninglessness plot twists, cunning wordplay, and enchanting archaisms. It will remind you of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties.

Wittenberg contains abundant references to Hamlet, Marlowe's works, and even Timothy Leary. There are pop songs like "Que Sera, Sera" sung by Faustus and there are a lot of jokes of Faustus' love life with Helen, Mary, Gretchen and Lady Voltemand (all superbly played by Elizabeth Carter). The jests come fast and furious in this two hour and 10 minute farce.

Under the astute direction of Josh Costello, the zaniness unfolds on the three-sided stage of the Aurora Theatre with four brilliant actors playing the roles of historical figures. Michael Stevenson gives a charming performance as the profligate, rebellious wheeler-dealer Faustus. He is pitch-perfect when smoking a substance and parroting Aristotle. Dan Haitt gives a winning performance as the stern Martin Luther. His demanding lectures are wonderfully rapacious. Jeremy Kahn is captivating, giving an outstanding performance as the confused and na´ve Hamlet. He does a tour de force of acting in his tennis match with Laertes (not seen but voiced by Daniel Petzold). Elizabeth Carter easily morphs from playing the serene Virgin Mary to the sensuous Helen of Troy to a dancing bar maiden.

Jim Cave's artful lighting is flawless while Chris Houston's sound is on point. Eric C. Sinkkonen's mock-gothic set is minimal but effective. Costumer designer Maggie Yule's colorful Renaissance garb compliments the actors.

Wittenberg runs through May 4, 2014, at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit Coming up next is The Letters opening at Harry's UpStage, also located at 2081 Addison Street in Berkeley, April 17 through May 25th.

A Hilarious Production of The Hound of the Baskervilles

Ron Campbell, Darren Bridgett and
Michael Gene Sullivan

Photo by Tracy Martin
TheatreWorks is presenting an insane send-up of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles with three uproarious performers playing many characters, including the master detective Sherlock Holmes, played brilliantly by Ron Campbell, and his assistant Watson, charmingly performed by Michael Gene Sullivan. Both actors, along with Darren Bridgett, vividly play other parts in this fast-paced farce of the classic murder mystery. This parody comes from the inspired minds of British writers Steven Canny, a producer for BBC radio, and John Nicholson, a founding member of the comedy theatre trio Peepolykus.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is in the wacky style of 39 Steps, which was successful for TheatreWorks several years ago. In case you don't know this classic mystery tale, it's about an ancient family curse, a spectral hound, a deranged killer, and a pair of well-known sleuths.

The minimal staging is comprised of bits of furniture, fascinating projections involving a unique shadow puppet play of the murder, and deft infusions of fog on the moors of the estate (Jed Parsario carries a fog machine about the set). All of this is accomplished by director Robert Kelley, lighting designer Steven B. Mannshardt, and scenic designer Andrea Bechert.

The cast consistently balances sincere melodrama and laughable send-ups in this two hour laugh-fest. Besides playing Holmes, Campbell side-splittingly morphs into a mystery woman in distress and a suspicious servant. Michael Gene Sullivan is just perfect as the not too bright Dr. Watson, while Darren Bridgett is brilliant playing a variety of characters, from Dr. Mortimer who brings the case to Sherlock to the newly threatened heir to the estate from Canada.

The Hound of the Baskervilles plays through April 27th at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets call 650-463-1960 or on visit Coming up next is the Stephen Sondheim revue Marry Me a Little opening on June 4 and running through June 29th.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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