“Pentecost” Rewrites

Here’s the spot for second drafts of ITJA reviews of “Pentecost!”

6 Comments on ““Pentecost” Rewrites

  1. Pentecost is set at a precise point in history, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but its core themes are devastating and timeless. It’s a slow starter of a play, its first act crammed with information on topics ranging from art history to post-Soviet geopolitics, but its second half shows its true colors. It is a story of universal humanity, of the cultural features that pull people together and rip them apart, as well as the personal damage that broad, callous international politics can inflict.

    One can imagine that this is a challenging play to present. The cast has to learn dialogue in a variety of foreign languages and adopt convincing accents, many of them Eastern European. To the credit of the cast from Middlebury College, they pull off this aspect beautifully, their speech weighted with the burdens of each character’s personal history.

    In many ways Pentecost is a rallying cry against political paternalism and the robbing of war-torn developing nations of their own cultural potential. The masterful set exemplifies this theme; what starts as a drab brick backdrop splashed with a Soviet propaganda poster gradually breaks away, revealing a beautiful and historically significant church painting.

    The play’s opening is largely concerned with the fate of this painting: where it belongs, who owns it, and its place in the history of painting, among other questions. However, at the end of act one, the soul of the work is revealed: a band of refugees seeking asylum who are desperate enough to take hostages in order to gain it. These refugees, in the stressful hours before their demands are addressed, try to release some tension by telling each other jokes and stories.

    The cast shines brightest in this crucial scene. As miserable and hopeless as the situation might seem, the refugees light up when telling their tales. One can sense the excitement in each one as they regale the others with something that inspired them, made them think, or tickled them with laughter. These impromptu acts of creativity seem to sum up what the play is trying to communicate: human beings are natural artists and creative innovators, if given the chance to be. When a global power crushes a weaker nation into the dust, it also dashes the peoples’ hopes of building a cultural legacy.

    While the acting in general was fantastic, the cast occasionally seemed somewhat quiet in comparison to the sounds around them. The play is packed with dense dialogue, and though I never felt I had lost track of the story, I occasionally felt that I could be missing important lines. By contrast, many of the sound effects were boomingly loud. While this did seem to jolt the audience to attention at crucial moments, this punch could have been retained even if the levels were evened out somewhat.

    Pentecost is intimidating at first. It plunges the audience into a world of culture and political history that they might not be knowledgeable about and tackles many of the universal “big questions”. This turns out to be a genius move, as the second act explores how those same big questions hold sway over the lives of people that most of us never come into contact with. By making the viewer feel deeply for these people, especially through the dedicated performances of the cast, Middlebury College production of the play gives these broad ideas the intense, emotional focus they deserve.

  2. Pentecost Review

    Pentecost is a tough play to warm up to. A three-hour play about art isn’t something that appeals to most people, but I was intrigued. I walked into the theatre and found myself challenged by this long, thought-provoking piece of theatre. It’s a remarkable undertaking to task yourself with and the folks at Middlebury College pull it all off with flying colors.

    Following the fall of the Berlin wall, an English art historian has traveled to the streets of an unnamed European country to an abandoned church. Hidden in its walls is a rare 13th century painting that could change everything. The fate of the painting results in political, artistic, and religious debates. Pentecost is filled with unexpected twists, wild characters, and 12 languages including Russian, Polish, and Arabic.

    Pentecost is a dense, but beautiful play filled to the brim with detail. Assisted by a stunning set, the events and themes of Pentecost begin to unfold brick by brick until the real truth is uncovered. This unraveling is slow, but takes its time to unearth every single detail until you’re left feeling emotionally and intellectually drained. The first act moves at a snail’s pace, almost wrapping up its issues by its conclusion, but takes a turn that leaves you wanting more.

    The company is filled with exemplary actors who really live in the characters they are portraying. Not a single choice or characterization feels false and the use of language give the play a sense of authenticity. These people are passionate about everything and are willing to die for what they believe in, whether it is art or freedom.

    The 12 languages and setting bring up Tower of Babel comparisons almost right away and the play addresses that. It works though because it also offers the other side of the coin. The Tower of Babel is a story showing that no matter what we will never be united in culture, faith, or politics. However, Pentecost has one scene where it seems like everyone is on the same page and the honesty of that moment offers a ray of hope in humanity.

    Pentecost is not for everyone. It’s weighed down with all this information and symbolism that you can get lost easily if you’re not paying attention. People who have a harder time understanding may leave after the first act. If those people stay though, they will be brought through a nail biter of a second act that plays on the differences on culture, politics, and faith. It’s a slow burn, but it’s all serving for a grander purpose. Everything comes full circle to a conclusion that will haunt you long after you’ve left the theatre.

  3. How to David Edgar’s Pentecost in one word? Brave. Not only was it brave of Middlebury College to bring such a thought-provoking, intellectually challenging, politically based play to an audience comprised mostly of 18-20something college students known for demanding mindless entertainment, but the production itself wasn’t afraid to take risks. The numerous accents the actors adopted could have been recipe for disaster, but the exceptionally talented cast rose to the occasion with impressive results. The set went the whole nine yards; complicated yet somehow appearing simplistic due to seamless scene changes, it was bold enough to pull me in and keep me there–as soon as the lights went up, I was automatically transported to the abandoned church.
    However, Pentecost’s biggest risk was its run time of three hours. Depending on your interest level in art history, politics and religious fundamentals, this could either be its downfall or its triumph. Looking back on the show, I can easily say it was brilliant. The acting, the set, the technical effects, the theme–mind-blowing. That being said, sitting through it wasn’t quite effortless. The emphasis Pentecost placed on realism through detail achieved major believability, but also forced the pace to drag. The content was so dense that I often had to struggle to focus, not wanting to miss something that would clear up some of the confusion fogging the first half of the play. Young college students may not be the ideal audience for this play–unless one happens to be majoring in art history. It wasn’t immediately relatable, which caused attention to wander. Luckily the leads, actors Jeffries Thaiss and Tosca Giustini as Dr. Davenport and Mrs. Pecs, developed such a believable relationship right from the beginning that cheering for them was the play’s saving grace–they were undeniably worth watching.
    Thankfully, the second act was much more successful in securing the audience’s attention, because the stakes were raised and the conflict became less intellectual and more immediate straight away. The ending itself was shocking; it left me breathless. It sought to prove that the divide between nations can be bridged, that no matter what country we come from, together we are all human; a theme finally relatable for everyone. So, to put it plainly: is it boring? If you choose not to invest in the characters, then yes, it is boring, and you will leave at intermission. But if you choose to stick it out, art major or not, you may find yourself blown away by the power of a fearless ending delivered by a stunningly capable cast–as long as you can sit through three hours of content overload to get there.
    Take it or leave it, but if you want my advice: be brave. Take a risk. Steel yourself for a three hour play and prepare to be surprised at just how much you may end up loving it.

    -Caitlin Krahn

  4. Looking for a show to watch after reading The Davinchi Code? Then Middlebury’s production of Pentecost is for you, even though it wasn’t for me. Pentecost takes place in an abandoned church in an unnamed southeastern European country. Within the play there’s an ancient fresco discovered, hostages held, and even a nude priest.

    While the plot of the show was difficult to follow and understand, the production was as solid as it comes. Even without being able to understand what some actors were saying in different languages, one could easily see that every actor on the stage was a hundred and ten percent committed to the portrayal of their parts. There were at least two accents being spoken on stage at a time, and the actors were still able to keep their accents straight. The ensemble was as talented as the leads and each member created distinct convincing characters.
    The wall at the back of the set was the most technically impressive part of the show; comprised of multiple layers the production was able to show the passage of time partially by the revealing of the fresco, as new spots were uncovered and recovered. The lighting was also well utilized, and the sound effects were mostly realistic and even had me jumping out of my seat towards the end of the show.

    The only problem of this show is well… the work itself. I feel to truly enjoy this show you have to be among the brilliant. I for one do not enjoy seeing shows that make me question what I am watching, and then make me feel uneducated for not being able to follow what is going on. The show went from being all about the discovered fresco to taking a sharp turn into the obscure when a band of angry displaced people seize control and take the show into a completely different direction.

    The show was quite dense and still clocked in at a little under three hours. Considering the audience at KCACTF is mostly college students with some professors this was a surprising pick, as talented as the cast and production was, I don’t believe this was the right audience for it. This is Maria Dominguez reporting for region one ITJA critic’s workshop.

  5. One of the virtues of theater as an art form is that it is often free to be ideologically complex and still captivatingly entertaining. Middlebury College’s production of David Edgar’s Pentecost embodied a uniquely theatrical density of drama as the most cerebrally complex contemporary play I’ve seen, yet its cerebral material was rooted in a captivating and relatable human drama.

    The story is of two art experts who discover a historically important painting, possibly the greatest find since King Tut’s tomb. When met with a cast of twenty-nine other international characters, varying cultural values and personal experiences of suffering collide into deep philosophical argument and a tense and violent hostage situation. The play keeps its philosophical musing livid by rooting all its discourse amidst such a tense situation, continually prompting deep reflection on the significance of art and language in human society while we wait in anguish to discover the fates of the characters.

    It is always difficult to play a text full of dense, philosophical musing while keeping the action enthralling. This cast of more than thirty people does so speaking in multiple languages to tell a complicated plot. Everyone’s voice was clear and distinct, with accurate accent-work and clear senses of character directives and objective choices.

    The play’s most intense moment came at its climax, in which the dialogue suddenly dispersed for a brutal moment of extreme violence. Never have I screamed out loud at a climax like this and burst into tears at the desolation on stage. Contrariwise, the only moment that took me out of the show was an earlier technical flaw in which the sound of a crying baby was unrealistically loud and clearly emerging from the speaker system, not the baby doll onstage. But the rest of the production was so clean and intense that I left the theater with a heavy sadness for the tragic elements of the drama and a desperate desire to read the play again and delve further into its riveting ideas.

  6. Not a lot was known about David Edgar’s Pentecost going into the theater usually you can get a general idea of what a play is about just from general conversation amongst the audience before the lights go down not this time. By the time the lights were up however this play had everyone talking. This engaging production put on by Middlebury college manages to confuse shock and take the audience on a journey full of emotion art and history alike. The play focuses on a 13th Century fresco found in an abandoned church by museum curator Gabriella Pecs who played by actress Tosca Giustini. What follows her discovery is the argument between two art historians, Dr. Oliver Davenport(played by Jeffries Thaiss) Whom Pecs has hired to determine the authenticity of the piece and Dr. Leonard Katz (played by Alex Draper) who has arrived in the country to prevent the removal of the fresco from the wall of the church. Both Giustini and Draper were very committed to their prospective characters,however both would have benefited from slowing down when they spoke as a lot of the words and the intention behind them were lost. Projection was an issue as well for certain characters along with speed,the audience was much more likely to obtain the gist of what was going on at any particular point in this play because certain characters spoke so fast they were not much help with explaining what was going on.

    There is a central focus throughout the play’s events on the idea of cultural divide and although we come from many different places there is still common ground should we choose to look. This was shown in many ways ranging from the subtle, such as two separate actions being carried out on separate sides of the stage at the same time in completely different languages. To the extreme which I wont give away here in case you haven’t seen it. Just know that while this theme is much quieter in the first half of the play It reaches out and grabs you by the shirt in the second half making the audience realize there is more than one side to every story and neither side is truly right or wrong.

    Pentecost is a long play with a run time of just under three hours and at times it can be confusing and difficult to get through but the dedication of the company as a whole to their production and their characters makes up for this fact ten times over. It is very easy to become invested in the characters and the very clear passion each one has for his or her objective in the play and just when it seems like everything is about to be over the show manages to throw audience members for a loop and take them in a completely unexpected direction. This play is not for every audience but it is still highly recommended and after watching it this critic can clearly see why! This has been Samantha Charter reporting from KCACTF.

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