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A CurtainUp Review

David Edgar's Pentecost Launches the Barrow Group's New Home
By Elyse Sommer

So then you'll help me?. . .May I ask why? ---Gabrielle
Because of all that's been inflicted on you through the centureies. And because. . .This is Illyria, lady. ---Oliver

Oksana Lada
Oksana Lada as art historian Gabrielle Pecs
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Laura Hitchcock ably summed up Pentecost's the plot details and strengths, as well as the flaws that are inevitable in a work of this scale. I've therefore appended her review of the play when it ran in Los Angeles and will confine myself to what makes this new production by the Barrow Group special and highly recommended.

To begin, let's consider the playwright and director as a team. What David Edgar and Seth Barrish, the artistic director of the ten-year-old Barrow Group have in common is that both are daring men.

At a time when plays with large casts are high risk enterprises, usually difficult to get produced unless combined with big box office names, Edgar wrote Pentecost, for more than twenty speaking parts and very little opportunity for double role playing. What's more it was big not only in terms of casting but thematically. It required audiences with increasingly short attention spans (to wit the many 60 to 90-minute plays) to commit to a two hours and fity minute running time.

Seth Barrish's daring is to take on Mr. Edgar's play even though his Barrow Group's new home is a small 99-seat theatre and to invest more than the usual amount of money spent off-off-Broadway in order to create the sort of production this ambitious play deserves.

Though Edgar's play had its world premiere half a dozen years ago in London and has had some productions like the one our Los Angeles chief critic Laura Hitchcock reviewed at a spacious venuet, it's as challenging and absorbing as ever. Mr. Barrish, bless him, has managed to convert his theater into an abandoned church in an unnamed south-east European country-- complete with a gradually revealed tile covered fresco that may or may not be a Giotto. He's also assembled an outstanding cast for the artistic whodunit that dominates the first act, and and the hostage thriller that turns the church into a veritable tower of Babel during the second act. With actors using the aisles and the entryway to the theater, the intimate space makes the viewer feel as if they're part of the drama, rather than just watching it.

The roles Laura singled out in her review as being exceptionally well portrayed are played with equal force and here: Oksana Lada shines as the passionate art curator Gabriella Pecs; Marc Aden Gray as Oliver the art historian who proves to be less stuffy than he seems; Stephen Singer as the somewhat cynical American historian Leo Katz; Andre Petersen as the cocky Minister of Culture;Jacob Garrett White as the Catholic priest, Father Karolyi and Eliza Foss as Anna Jedilova, the dissident now presiding magistrate at the trial within the play.

Set designer Markos Henry has transformed the stage as well as the sides of the orchestra into the abandoned church, and the fresco is used to stunning effect for the big-bang ending. Robert Cangemi's lighting, Moe Schell's costumes and Stephen Zazzera's sound design further enhance the coming together of ancient and modern worlds.

While I can understand Laura's comparison of George Bernard Shaw's and David Edgar's playwriting as a means of contrasting social and cultural views, the other playwright Pentecost most brings to my mind is Tony Kushner, especially Homebody Kabul ( my review)

New Yorkers who have a bit of Mr. Edgar's and Mr. Barrish's daring and went to see Pentecost without waiting for the critics' opinion accompanying the official opening, were rewarded with bargain-priced $15 preview tickets. Even at its current ticket price, this is a not to be missed opportunity to seen a really full bodied play -- full of good performance, full of ideas, full of excitement.

By David Edgar
Directed by Seth Barrish
Cast:Gabriella Pecs (Oksana Lada), Oliver Davenport (Marc Aden Gray), Father Bojovic (Peter Vouras), Father Karolyi (Jacob Garrett White), Pusbas (Yuri Astakhov), Czaba, Minister of Culture (Andres Petersen), Leo Katz (Stephen Singer), Anna Jedlikova, former dissident (Eliza Foss), Toni Newsome (Katrin Redfern), Yasmin, Palestinian Kuwaiti (Alysia Reiner), Raif, Azeri (Gene Farber), Antonio, Mozambican (Patrick Ssenjovu), Amira, Bosnian (Melanie Levitsky), Marina, Russian (Eliza Foss), Grigori, Ukrainian (Yevgenly Dekhyar), Abdul, Afghan (Mousa Kraish), Tunu, Sri Lankan (Anjali Bhimani), Nico, Bosnian Romani (Gregory Korostishevsky), Cleopatra, his daughter (Jessica Avellone), Fatima, Kurd (Monique Gabriela Curnen)
Sets: Markas Henry
Lighting: Robert Cangeml
Costumes: Moe Scholl
Sound: Stefano Zazzera
Properties: Jessica Parks
Running Time: 2 hours and 50 minutes, with 1 intermission
The Barrow Group, Arts Comples, 312 W. 36th St. (8/9 Aves) 212/868-4444
2/16/05 to 4/25/05; opening 2/28/05.
Wednesdays to Mondays at 8 PM and Saturday Matinees are at 2 PM.
Tickets are $40. (previews were $15)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on February 26th matinee performance

-- Laura Hitchcock's review of Pentecost at the Evidence Room in Los Angeles

Director Bart DeLorenzo has given brilliant life to David Edgar's award-winning Pentecost. The second of Edgar's trilogy of political plays set in eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War, it was first produced in London in 1994. Set in an eastern European church occupied by armed refugees, this production gained an eerie timeliness from the recent stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem. Pentecost, however, is after bigger game than occupation and boundaries.

The play begins with an excited local curator, Gabriella Pecs, from the country's national museum literally forcing on British art historian Oliver Davenport her discovery of an ancient fresco behind the brick wall of the old church. If genuine, it could change the course of art history.

It doesn't take long for the emerging fresco to become the bone in a dog fight between Catholic and Orthodox priests; the leader of the Heritage Nationalist Movement; the young Minister of Culture whose love of American slang would be winning if it weren't so cynical; a brilliant American art historian, who speaks softly but keeps his fingers firmly on the pulse of all the contenders in his search for the Real Thing; and a presiding magistrate who attempts to adjudicate. She also has a bone to pick with the Catholic priest whose father was a refugee from their country about those who leave and those who stay.

We follow these contentious characters in their pursuit of the mystery until the end of Act I when the church and our sensibilities are invaded by a group of multi-ethnic refugees, headed by a searing Palestinian Kuwaiti woman named Yasmin. They force the three art historians to change clothes with them and hunker down for a long negotiation with the outside world for political asylum, using the fresco as a bargaining chip.

During the long night of waiting, the refugees pass the time with ethnic dances, songs and stories. Edgar wanders off the narrative path here to paint a picture of the characters and, at times, the path seems lost in the brushstrokes.

This is a big play in terms of length, content, themes -- and didactic discourses which could be pruned. It's stuffed with the ragged colorful clothes of the various ethnicities who invade the church. It's stuffed with the ragged colorful clothes of the various ethnicities who invade the church, smoulders with the fumes wafting from their cooking pots, prickles with the points of views of its mostly young characters. It finds its climax, however, and ends not with a whimper, but a bang.moulders with the fumes wafting from their cooking pots, prickles with the points of views of its mostly young characters. It finds its climax, however, and ends not with a whimper, but a bang..

DeLorenzo has pushed his audience bleachers to the sides of the big Evidence Room space, leaving a long center playing field for his cast. The fresco covers one wall and arched windows overlooking the street the opposite. Jason Adams' set design, Barbara Lempel's astutely hued costumes and John Zalewski's atonal sound design are first class. Lap-Chi Chu's lighting design evokes the dim mysticism of an old church without recourse to ostentatious shadows.

Of the excellent cast, Leo Marks as American art historian Leo Katz is a special satisfaction. One forgets he's acting and that's rare. On the other end of the spectrum, Jeliaz Drent's deliberately crafted slang-spouting Minister of Culture projects all the cocky cynical young charisma of an emerging nation. Colleen Wainwright finds the passion in Gabriella Pecs; more variation in her vocal tones would make her easier to understand. Don Oscar Smith epitomizes the scruffy British art historian, Michael Louden is brave and touching as the Catholic priest, Father Karolyi and Janellen Steininger's briskness slips aside to reveal the long years of struggle before she became Presiding Magistrate.

Edgar takes a leaf from the many pages of George Bernard Shaw who loved to contrast social and cultural views. His arguments are not as neat as Shaw's and, in his eagerness to expound, his play loses personal dramatic and emotional footing. Still a writer who takes on the big picture and is willing to employ a big cast is a vibrant change Not the least of Pentecost's values is that it throws into vivid relief the core purpose of art: to be alpha and omega, the catalyst. It may not be a coincidence that the fresco is placed over what once was an altar.

Playwright: David Edgar
Director: Bart DeLorenzo
Cast: Gabriella Pecs (Colleen Wainwright), Girl (Beata Swiderska), Father Bojovic (Jay Harik), Father Karolyi (Michael Louden), Pusbas (David Reynolds), Czaba, Minister of Culture (Jeliaz Drent), Presiding Magistrate (Janellen Steininger), Oliver Davenport (Don Oscar Smith), Leo Katz (Leo Marks), Toni Newsome (Dorie Barton), Yasmin, Palestinian Kuwaiti (Lauren Campedelli), Rauf, Azeri (Valeri Georgiev), Antonio, Mozambican (Jason Delane), Amira, Bosnian (Alicia Adams), Marina, Russian (Galina Zaytseva), Grigori, Ukrainian (Alexis Kozak), Abdul, Afghan (Monish Bakshi), Tunu, Sri Lankan (Uma Nithipalan), Nico, Bosnian Romani (Guy Ale), Cleopatra, his daughter (Beata Swiderska), Fatima, Kurd (Anna Khaja)
Set Design: Jason Adams
Costume Design: Barbara Lempel
Lighting Designer: Lap-Chi Chu
Sound Designer: John Zalewski
Running Time: Two hours, 50 minutes, including one intermission
The Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Ph: (213) 381-7118 May 25-July 7, 2002
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on June 1.
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