Martin Luther to lock horns with the Pope in ‘Luther’s Trumpet’ from GMU

Edward Gero and Craig Wallace star as religious adversaries in imaginative history play produced digitally by Mason School of Theater.

Edward Gero and Craig Wallace—two of the most prominent actors in DC—go head-to-head as Martin Luther and Pope Leo X in Luther’s Trumpet, presented May 28 to June 5, 2021, by George Mason University’s School of Theater as a digital, pre-recorded performance. The imaginative Reformation-era history play poses provocative questions about faith, justice, priestly celibacy, and standing up against authoritarianism.

Edward Gero as Martin Luther and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David Tatel as the Devil in ’Luther’s Trumpet.’ Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University.

Acclaimed historian James Reston Jr. adapted his 2016 book Luther’s Fortress into this new dramatic work for the stage. Luther’s Trumpet stars Edward Gero as Martin Luther, Craig Wallace as Pope Leo X, and Kevin Murray (interim director of the School of Theater) as indulgence seller Friar Tetzel. Judge David Tatel (U.S. Court of Appeals) appears as the Devil, a role he played in the 2018 premiere production at the Stone Hill amphitheater.

Luther’s Trumpet is directed by Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts Rick Davis. Mason students join community and faculty actors in this “hybrid” production recorded from the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, employing the Moving Story Window Wall projection technology (developed at Mason) in order to blend scenic effects and on-stage actors with others appearing remotely.

Luther’s Trumpet is available to watch through Mason Arts at Home from Friday, May 28, at 8 pm until Friday, June 4, at 5 pm. ET. The performance is free, but registration is required. To register and for additional details, click here.

“We’re bringing together some of region’s top professional actors, talented Mason theater students, and outstanding community performers in a production space unlike any other I’ve ever seen—a true hybrid of in-person action on stage interacting with a world created online via Zoom,” said Davis. “This is both a pandemic accommodation and an experiment in post-pandemic techniques that will stretch our imaginations and, if it works, will set us free from some of our traditional space constraints.”

The cast and crew of the School of Theater’s production, Luther’s Trumpet, rehearses at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall. Photo by: Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University

About the play: In Luther’s Trumpet, Martin Luther’s Reformation is under siege in the pivotal and dramatic months after Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. (Reston’s book was published in 2016 to mark the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses.) In 1521, the Catholic Church hunts for the excommunicated monk now branded a heretic, seeking to silence him—by burning him at the stake if necessary—and suppress his Reformation Movement. But Luther’s followers arrange for him to hide in Wartburg Castle. There, incognito, and despite formidable external foes like Pope Leo X and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and while waging internal battles with the Devil, Martin Luther translates the New Testament into German and struggles with his compulsory celibacy as a Catholic priest. When he emerges from his fortress after eight months, stronger and more determined, his Reformation gives birth to Protestantism, and the Christian religion is forever transformed.

Davis adds, “I am thrilled to be working with Reston again to get a second look at Luther’s Trumpet, which sits squarely in my favorite genre of drama, the imaginative history play. This version builds on the work we did on the 2018 outdoor premiere at Stone Hill Amphitheatre in Rappahannock County, but in a very different environment.”

The Moving Story Window Wall features a full stage video projection set behind onstage actors. This experimental technology is an innovation for digital collaboration in real time and full scale, affording an opportunity for the group of in-person actors to interact with the online cast and display visual settings of Rome, Wittenberg, and Luther’s cell in the Wartburg Castle. The Window Wall is an invention of Mason’s Dance Heritage professor Christopher d’Amboise, who identified a need for larger-than-life or full-bodied video conferencing and launched the groundbreaking tool as part of The LIVE Center (The Center for Live Interactive Virtual Education) in fall of 2020. By eliminating the barrier of distance, the full stage projection expands possibilities for virtual teaching, performances, and one-of-a-kind events.

“I could not be more pleased and gratified to see the play re-emerge in the hands of the finest actors in Washington and in a revolutionary form so appropriate to a time of plague,” said Reston. “Hats off to Rick Davis and the entire Mason theater program for harnessing all these fresh creative elements into this unique and exciting production.”

Edward Gero as Martin Luther in Mason School of Theater’s production of ‘Luther’s Trumpet.’ Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications/George Mason University.

With a cast of Mason faculty, community, and student actors, including:
Edward Gero: Martin Luther
Kevin Murray: Tetzel
Craig Wallace: Pope Leo X
Alison Weisgall: Cardinal Giuliano de Medici
Hugh Hill: Hans
Karen Hochstetter: Argula van Stauff
David Tatel: The Devil
Steven Franco*: Phillip
Hasan Crawford*: Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor

* Mason student

James Reston, Jr. (Playwright) has written 19 books and 4 plays. His 9/11 novel, The Nineteenth Hijacker, has just been published. His first play Sherman the Peacemaker, about General William Tecumseh Sherman at Civil War’s end, premiered at the PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C. in 1979. His second play, Jonestown Express, premiered at the Trinity Square Repertory Company in Providence, R.I. in 1984. Directed by the iconoclastic director, Adrian Hall, it was published by TCG as one of the best new plays of that year. His third play, Galileo’s Torch, premiered in 2016 and has had seven productions including the Folger Shakespeare Company. Luther’s Trumpet received its first staged reading in 2018.

Rick Davis (Director) is Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Executive Director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, and Professor of Theater at George Mason University. Rick came to Mason in 1991 as Artistic Director of Theater of the First Amendment (TFA) after six seasons as Resident Dramaturg and then Associate Artistic Director at Baltimore’s Center Stage. For the Mason Players, he has directed a variety of plays and musicals, most recently the reworked production of Rags in Fall, 2019. He also directs for Mason Opera Theater, recently including The Medium and a collaboration with Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, Raising Voices. Rick was educated at Lawrence University (B.A.) and the Yale School of Drama (M.F.A., D.F.A.). At Mason, he has been honored as the Alumni Association “Distinguished Faculty of the Year” and with a university Teaching Excellence Award.

Edward Gero (Martin Luther) is Performance Area Head for the School of Theater at George Mason University. A veteran of the Washington theater community, he is a four-time recipient of the Helen Hayes Award. In 2015, he created the role of Justice Antonin Scalia in the world premiere of Molly Smith’s acclaimed production of John Strand’s play The Originalist at Arena Stage, which went on to multiple productions around the country including 59E59 Theaters in NYC. Other political roles include Richard Nixon in Nixon’s Nixon at Roundhouse Theatre in 1999 and 2008, which earned him a Helen Hayes nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor both times. He has also appeared as Mark Rothko in Robert Falls’ production of RED at the Goodman Theater and Arena Stage. In more than 30 seasons with the Shakespeare Theatre Company, he appeared as King Henry in Henry IV, parts 1&2 and 70 other roles include Hotspur in Henry IV (Helen Hayes Award), Bolingbroke in Richard II (Helen Hayes Award), and Macduff in Macbeth (Helen Hayes Award).  Other D.C. credits include Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre; Salieri in Amadeus at Roundhouse Theatre; Donny in American Buffalo at The Studio Theatre and Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd at Signature Theatre. Film and television credits include House of Cards, Turn: Washington’s Spies, Die Hard II, Striking Distance, and narrations for The Discovery Channel, and PBS. He earned a BA in Speech and Theater at Montclair State University. Gero was honored to receive the 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship.

Kevin Murray (Tetzel) currently serves as the Interim Director of the School of Theater at George Mason University. As an actor, he is best known for his appearances in feature films Aftermath with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, and recently appeared in the Showtime series The Good Lord Bird with Ethan Hawke. Additional appearances include House of Cards on Netflix, Veep and The Wire on HBO, Homicide on NBC, and numerous independent films. Kevin is a teacher, acting coach and arts education advocate. He has appeared in scores of plays, and in his past life as Managing Director of Mason’s resident theater company, Theater of the First Amendment, he championed new work in both theater and film. Each summer, he teaches on-camera acting techniques to children of all ages as a staff member of Acting for Young People, the theater component of the Mason Community Arts Academy, and is a board member for both organizations.

Craig Wallace (Pope Leo X) has been an actor/director/teaching artist in the DMV for 25 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University (MFA) and Howard University (BFA) where he also an adjunct Professor. Craig has performed on several DMV stages and is an affiliated artist with Shakespeare Theatre Company; Round House Theatre and Ford’s Theatre.

Alison Weisgall (Cardinal Giuliano de Medici)’s New York credits include Life and Times, Episodes 1-4 (Public Theater, Obie Award for Special Citations); Romeo and Juliet (Classic Stage Company); and Angel of History (HERE Arts Center). Regionally she has performed in A Few Good Men (Pittsburgh Public Theater) and The Glass Menagerie (Winnipesaukee Playhouse). She also toured Europe and Asia for three years as a company member with Nature Theater of Oklahoma. Film/TV credits include I’m Your Woman (Amazon); “Archive 81” (Netflix); and “Rust” (Showtime). Alison is an adjunct professor of Theatre at Chatham University. B.A., M.F.A.: Columbia University.

This production of Luther’s Trumpet was made possible by the generosity of the following individuals and corporations: Harry and Pam Bookey, John Henry, John Jacquemin, Pete Linsert, Ron Maxwell, David and Marina Ottaway, Sandra Read, Jonathan M. Weisgall, and the Berkshire Hathaway Energy Foundation.

About the College of Visual and Performing Arts
George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts provides an academic environment in which the arts are explored as individual disciplines and interdisciplinary forms that strengthen one another. The college prepares students for careers as creators, performers, teachers, scholars, arts leaders, and arts entrepreneurs. Understanding that an education in the arts is deepened by regular contact with the work of distinguished visiting artists, the Center for the Arts, the professional presentation and production arm of the college, welcomes a variety of professional and world-renowned artists, musicians and actors to its stage. Students have the opportunity to perform, create, and exhibit their work in a wide variety of public venues, including a 2,000-seat Concert Hall. The college is home to the Riva and Sid Dewberry Family School of Music, the Schools of Dance, Art and Theater, as well as the Computer Game Design, Arts Management, and Film and Video Studies programs.

About George Mason University
George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls nearly 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility.


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