‘Written by James Reston, Jr., “Luther’s Trumpet” is the story primarily about the duel between Martin Luther (Edward Gero) and Pope Leo X (Craig Wallace), but it is also a duel between Luther and the Devil (a very effective and intellectual U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David Tatel). Of the two, the more interesting is the one between Martin Luther and the Devil. It is unfortunate that there isn’t more of that interaction in the play. In the scenes between Gero and Tatel, the script shines and the actors really hit their stride.
In the scenes between Gero and Tatel, the script shines and the actors really hit their stride.
We first meet Luther at the Vatican, who has come to atone for his perceived questioning of faith. He is met by a priest who controls access to a stairway that is meant to be walked up on one’s knees. For different fees, one may buy indulgences that will take the time of one’s stay in purgatory or allow one to escape hell altogether. Considering the cost of the work being done on Pope Leo X’s castle, church, and on-going conflicts, the Vatican saw this as perfectly sound fiscal policy.
Luther leaves Rome and returns to Germany, still struggling with his faith and desire to reform the Church. He eventually goes back to Rome to answer for his “sins.” The pope gives him a limited safe conduct. From there Luther is spirited away (disguised as a knight) and hidden in a castle by his followers intent on saving him from death. While there, Luther wrestles with the devil, celibacy (even hiding from a lady — Karen Hochstetter as Argula van Stauff), and translates the New Testament into German.
Along the journey, we meet Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor (an eager Hasan Crawford, a Mason student) who is aligned with the pope to keep him in power and consolidate his own. They are counseled by Cardinal Giuliano de Medici (a stunning and note-perfect Alison Weisgall) to rid themselves of this pesky priest.
On Luther’s side, we meet Phillip (Steven Franco, a Mason student), a young priest/monk who stands by his mentor, and Hans (an amiable Hugh Hill) who is the captain in charge of the “prisoner knight.”
The script assumes one is very familiar with the ins and outs of Luther’s Reformation and the 95 Theses as well as the political landscape of the period. Without that familiarity, the script comes across as somewhat choppy. The complete seriousness with which people took the fear of excommunication and the stranglehold the Church had on society doesn’t quite come through. The treatment of Leo X and Charles V seemed a bit one-dimensional.
The show was filmed using the Moving Story Window Wall projection technology developed at George Mason University, originally in the dance program. This allows scenic effects to blend in with the stage actors and others who appear remotely. This allows everyone to have the same background at the same time, which is a nice effect. Tele-prompters were also employed. In certain instances, it made it appear that the actors’ eyes were drifting off. Filmed at the university, it was directed by Rick Davis, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
This show could have had a lot to say about power and its pitfalls or about a man’s struggles with conscience and truth. But it didn’t have enough time, perhaps, to do both equally well. It was an interesting experiment and gives an audience a taste of the seismic shift in geopolitics of that era and how the effects still roil.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 15 minutes without intermission.
Advisory: Some adult language.
“Luther’s Trumpet” is free and runs through June 4, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. This production was pre-recorded and presented virtually through on-demand streaming by George Mason University School of Theatre and the Center for the Arts, Fairfax, VA. For more information and to register, please click here.