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Even before Shakespeare's Hamlet, the gloomy Danish prince haunted by the ghost of his murdered father, couldn't make up his mind back at the castle, he was something of a ditherer while at university. At least that's according to the premise of Wittenberg, a comic play by David Davalos that has Dr. Faustus and Martin Luther fighting each other over the heart and soul of the lonely Dane, who characteristically bounces back and forth between them.

''Each one of them wants to take him under their wing to become their prized pupil,'' says director Josh Morrison, who's in charge of the Stages Repertory Theatre production. Luis Galindo, who plays Dr. Faustus, describes his character as ''a libertine, a free thinker not swayed by his surroundings being in a Catholic University.'' Playwright Davalos told us: ''I don't think of any of the characters as villains — there's no malice propelling any of them. I think of them more as antagonists and of Faustus as perhaps an antihero.''

He says he placed the play at Wittenberg because ''to an Elizabethan audience, a reference to Wittenberg both identified a person there as Protestant and as someone immersed in an academic environment of intellectual foment and questioning — as if an American Hamlet in the '60s were identified as coming home from Berkeley or Kent State.'' Ryan Schabach plays Hamlet, and Molly Searcy plays the Virgin Mary and several other women as well. Perhaps the most unexpected bit of casting is that Stages Producing Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin makes his acting debut at Stages, playing Martin Luther. Morrison says they were going through auditions for the part of Luther when McLaughlin suggested he read for it, and it clicked. ''Louie is such a powerful actor; in order for the play to work, I needed to have someone who goes head to head with him,'' says Morrison.

7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through February 17.
Wednesdays-Sundays. Starts: Jan. 23. Continues through Feb. 17, 2013


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