Rosencrantz and Guildenstern may well be alive in "Wittenberg."

David Davalos' wacky homage to "Hamlet" mashes up Shakespeare with Faustus and Martin Luther in a nimble-witted if overwritten comedy that smacks of Stoppardian flights of fancy. Hamlet, the melancholy Dane, has not yet met his dark fate in this pithy little prequel. Here the prince of Denmark is just another dazed and confused college undergrad torn between two great thinkers.

Director Josh Costello works hard to strike a balance between zany and brainy in this smart-alecky comedy in its regional premiere at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre. And the cast attacks the anachronisms with an infectious glee. Unfortunately, the play milks its erudition far too hard, the pastiche can be a tad pompous and the tittering turns to tedium before the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune hit our boy Hamlet.

Before he had to rush back to Elsinore for his father's funeral, Hamlet (Jeremy Kahn) was your average angsty undergraduate, dithering over what to major in and playing tennis with his posse (Laertes is his rival on the court). He just happens to be hitting the books during the year 1517 when the university was afire with the academic genius of Faustus (Michael Stevenson) and Martin Luther (Dan Hiatt). The philosopher and the monk each resolve to make Hamlet their star pupil.

The pun is the thing when Hamlet pays a visit to Faustus' office, which is located in Room 2B. Played with panache by Stevenson, Faustus is a free thinker who has a regular singing gig at the local tavern, the Bunghole. Luther, an ascetic wracked with guilt over the corruption of the church, rails against all manner of indulgence. The ever-astute Hiatt captures the rigors of a life of piety. Hamlet, undeclared even in his senior year, can't choose which muse to follow in this standoff of the scholars. For this part, Kahn evokes the ardor of youth but lacks the gravity to convey Hamlet's shadows.

Amid all the intellectual calisthenics, along comes Copernicus with his heretical theories about the earth revolving around the sun and rocks Hamlet's world even harder.

No wonder Hamlet was such a head case when his uncle offed his dad. His mind was already awash in a quagmire of existential treatises on life, the universe and everything. He could handle the ennui when all he had to do was get stoned and play tennis, but it was entirely too much to bear when the ghost was at the battlements.

Alas, all that scholarly one-upmanship can get a bit tiresome as we watch Faustus resolve to sell his soul and Luther launch his reformation. All the gibes and gambols begin to blur together in the second act because the playwright never finds a way to ground the debate in emotion or psychology. Too much of the time all the dueling over dogma seems like much ado about nothing.

Of course, there is also a wonderfully daffy sex scene, numerous scatological gags and countless jokes about the tenure track that are quite clever.

For the record, "Wittenberg" ends when "Hamlet" starts and the indecisive prince goes off to find the conscience of the king.

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza, and follow her at Twitter.com/karendsouza4.

'WITTENBERG'
By David Davalos, presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Through: May 4
Where: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
Running time: 2 hours,
one intermission
Tickets: $32-$50;
510-843-4042,
auroratheatre.org