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Author: Sabine Kortals

Players on the world’s stage: CSF’s newest play ‘Wittenberg’ illuminates the joys and struggles of finding purpose

Hamlet couldn’t kill Claudius. Imagining the immediate pleasure in offing his father’s killer was not enough to knock the angel off his shoulder. His curiosity of the afterlife kept him from sinning and remained at the center of his psyche for the rest of his life. And local playwright David Davalos wonders why.

“Hamlet kind of inadvertently follows the path of a revenger, but really the crux of the play is him refusing to take on that role,” Davalos says. “What is going on in the mind of a person who is doing that?”

His award-winning play Wittenberg, which premiered in Colorado at the Shakespeare Festival in June, tells the story of Prince Hamlet as a wavering senior in college at the end of the Middle Ages in 1517. While at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Hamlet finds himself pinned in a corner by his professors Doctor Faustus, the devilish protagonist of the 16th century play written by Christopher Marlowe, and Protestant-pioneer Martin Luther, who fight for his devotion to their conflicting philosophies. Davalos weaves the lives of these three characters in a comedy that echoes the adolescent need to find purpose.

Prince Hamlet, played by Colorado’s rising star Benjamin Bonenfant, becomes the man he is in Shakespeare’s play, Davalos says, because of the influences of Faustus and Luther. The play is “reverse engineered” after Hamlet comes upon Claudius praying, a time that brought out both his Lutherian and Nietzschean qualities, he explains.

The play mirrors the power a university has in changing history, and the lives of its students and professors, as Hamlet begins his existential quest.

The real purpose of college is to help us decide who we want to be, Davalos argues, “and knowing as we do walking into the theater where Hamlet is going after this, it’s an interesting thing to be asking yourself — how much of your fate is written?”

Premiering Wittenberg at the University of Colorado Boulder, a longtime partner of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, was a treat for director Timothy Orr. Prince Hamlet’s undertaking isn’t very different from those of other students who enter their senior year undecided about a major. Many students feel the influence of professors like eccentric Faustus and conservative Luther and begin to see the world through a new lens…

Read this article by the Boulder Weekly’s Natalia Bayona in its entirety here