Monday, September 24, 2018

Wittenberg: A Bromance?

While working on the scenes between Faust (Kevin Moore) and Luther (Adam Rutledge), an image struck me: Grumpy Old Men. Remember that movie from the 90’s? Walter Mathau and Jack Lemon played neighbors in a small town in Minnesota who have known each other for their entire lives, and who communicate by yelling insults at each other. Despite their children’s marriage to each other, they play pranks on one another and generally work hard to make the other’s life a living hell. If that were the extent of their relationship, the comedy would only be old men behaving like jerks, and while that could be entertaining for a little while, there would be nothing to redeem the characters. Perhaps all characters need not be redeemed, but in the world of romantic-comedies redemption is the order of the day. In Wittenbergthe question of redemption hangs over both Luther and Faust.

If only the animosity between these characters exists, the play can become flat and static their arguments solidify into Religion v. Philosophy and Luther v. Faust with one winning at the expense of the other. However, what is interesting and emphasized in our work is not the points on which Luther and Religion diverge from Faust and Philosophy, but the points on which they agree. The compelling attribute of the relationship is the genuine love and concern these two frenemies have for each other.

Martin Luther is genuinely concerned about the state of Faust’s soul. It is his life’s calling to protect and shepherd those he truly believes to be in danger. When Faust needles Luther on points of religion, it is because he truly believes that Martin’s misplaced faith in institutionalized religion keeps him from realizing his true potential. These colleagues do not hate each other. Their debates are not about defeating or destroying the other. Their debates, discussions and disagreements are about saving a friend.

These frenemies seek each other out and push one another to live up to their perceived potentials. Luther comes to watch Faust perform at The Bunghole. Faust urges Luther to step up and accept responsibility for his beliefs. The priest administers help to the soul and the doctor does the same for the body. They do not hide from the other they are both made better by their relationship.

It is interesting to see them agree without realizing it, or perhaps they just don’t acknowledge it themselves. They understand that on some level they mirror each other. Despite the constant collegial animosity, or perhaps because of it, Luther and Faust are drawn to each other. The two enjoy the intellectual rigor of a good, clean debate. A tough debate, but one that does not get personal. They do not just ignore the other side of the argument but confront it in a manner that leaves room to bring their opponent over to their side.

This could just be wishful thinking on my part, but it is comforting to think that this kind of conversation could still be had in the public sphere. People with diametrically opposed opinions discussing their points of view, can passionately state their positions over a beer without sliding into personal insults. It’s hard enough to do this when discussing sports, let alone someone’s personal beliefs or their calling.

I hope this will be a take away for our audience. It is definitely a layer that we are folding into the play. It is enjoyable to watch these characters, and the actors portraying them, to squabble and bark their claims to the Truth. There is great humor jibes and jabs at one another that only friends can get away with. But it much more powerful to recognize the love that exists between them. 

-Andy Kirtland, Artistic Director
The New Renaissance Theatre Company

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