People’s Light & Theatre Company pairs Itamar Moses’s uber-witty historical farce BACH AT LEIPZIG with the zaniness of director Pete Pryor: the result is a hilarious, intelligent production loaded with rapid-fire laughs, scholarly references, and provocative ponderings about religion, political philosophies, and compositional structure versus form. A coterie of musicians (all named Georg or Johann) gather in 1722 in the narthex of Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, where they have come to compete for the position of church organist. A lofty set (Roman Tatarowicz) and rich costumes (Marla Jurglanis) recreate the late Baroque period; details include the floor tomb of 17th-century German composer Sebastian Knüpfer, Leipzig’s director of music. Jorge Cousineau’s sound design brings clarity to the actors’ words and the integral background organ.
An opening curtain speech in long-winded German introduces the wacky tone. Goofy sight gags punctuate the fast-paced humor: Johann Christoph Graupner (David Ingram) extends a postmodern retractable handle on a wheeled suitcase; Johann Martin Steindorff (Danny Gardner) falls flat on his face after a night of excess; Georg Lenck (Jabari Brisport), a dexterous pickpocket, appears in drag—the only clothes he has left after he’s gambled away everything. The clever script (loosely based on an actual event) translates the musical format of a six-part fugue into a theatrical comedy: The characters enter successively, reading aloud their letters to home; interweaving repeated themes and running jokes culminate in a complex polyphonic climax with the entire cast on stage, each character delivering a different contrapuntal monologue. [People’s Light & Theatre Company Steinbright Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA]; July 9-August 10, 2014; peopleslight.org.