Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 23, 2011


Chester Theater, Chester, MA
through August 28, 2011
by Robbin M. Joyce

The slings and arrows of the conflict between Faith and Reason may seem a sea of troubles, but it makes for entertaining theatre. David Davalos has created a very witty play, set as a "prequel" to Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that will delight even those who don't appreciate the Brooding Dane.

Byam Stevens, along with a highly creative production team, has created a university setting wherein Hamlet seeks guidance from two renowned professors: John Faustus and Martin Luther. The set, complete with stone buttresses and heavy wooden doors creates a feeling of weight , while the compass painted on the floor could be symbolic of Hamlet's need for direction. The lights expertly change with hardly a notice, but punctuate the gravity of the topic at hand.

Joel Ripka, as Hamlet, allows the Elizabethan language to trip off his tongue and plays a suitably ambivalent Hamlet. Aubrey Saverino skillfully portrays all of the female characters, from a bar-maid to a defrocked nun to the Virgin Mother. Kent Burnham, as Luther, fairly portrays the father of the Protestant Reformation with a graceful strength of character and conviction. But it is James Barry, as Faustus, who steals the show. His engaging demeanor, combined with a mastery of his own presence and his relationship to his fellow actors, is a joy to watch. He lithely draws a willing and appreciative audience into the arguments between Faustus and Luther, and plays a mean lute to boot.

This is a clever, creative play that allows Faith and Reason each their own valid argument, but justifies neither. It's full of smart wordplay and sharp retort, with a nod to the work of The Bard himself. To see, or not to see, that may be the question; but see with most wicked speed.