BACH AT LEIPZIG (People’s Light): 60-second review

Jabari Brisport, Danny Gardner, and Stephen Novelli in BACH AT LEIPZING at People’s Light & Theatre Company (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

A swordfight choreographed by Samantha Bellomo and featuring the balletic Gardner—whose precise movements and aristocratic bearing evoke the Baroque era and evince his long training in dance—draws major laughs and gasps of delight from the audience. Pictured: Jabari Brisport, Danny Gardner, and Stephen Novelli (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

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.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.