David Edgar’s Extraordinary Play Is Performed in Twelve Languages
Middlebury, VT—The Middlebury College Department of Theatre and Dance will stage an extraordinary piece of theatre, David Edgar’s 1994 play “Pentecost,” on November 21–23 at Wright Memorial Theatre. The ambitious production draws on an unprecedented collaboration of multiple departments across the College. The cast of 28 students, college professors, and professional actors—one of the largest companies in the history of the department—will perform in twelve different languages under the direction of theatre faculty Richard Romagnoli and Alex Draper ’88.
The play is set in an abandoned church in an unnamed Eastern European country shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. A 13th-century fresco has just been discovered by a young curator from the country’s national museum. If proved to predate the works of Giotto, as suspected, the work could explode accepted notions about European art. A passionate debate about the authenticity of the fresco ensues, igniting related hot-button issues about culture and disillusionment in the post-Soviet order. Then, without warning, a group of armed and desperate refugees barricade themselves inside the church, taking the Western art experts inside as hostages. The refugees range in ethnicity from Palestinian to Kurd to Bosnian. The second act follows their increasingly tense negotiation and argumentation, leading to a shocking and visceral conclusion.
Video Preview: Pentecost
The play was first produced in October 1994 at The Other Place, a black-box theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon, owned and operated by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It made an immediate impression. In a review titled “A Masterwork in any Language,” critic Paul Taylor of The Independent wrote of the play’s first production, “With great wit and empathy, Edgar uses the fresco, its questionable status and the competing ethnic, national and religious interest-groups who flock round it, as a piquant vantage point from which to look at the ironies and agonies of post-Communist Eastern Europe and at conflicting attitudes towards art.”
Playwright David Edgar is a noted British writer whose more than 60 plays include the Tony-winning adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, Shape of the Table, Destiny, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and a recent adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the author of numerous books on the state of playwriting in Britain.
Middlebury’s rich international community is heavily represented by students Tosca Giustini ’15, Paula Bogutyn ’13.5, Roksana Gabidullina ’16, Vanda Gaidamovic ’14, Anis Mebarki ’15, Marium Sultan ’16, and alumnus Aubrey Dube ’11. The cast is completed by Professor of Russian Tom Beyer, and students Teddy Anderson ’13.5, Nicholas Hemerlin ’14.5, Mari Vial-Golden ’14, Adam Benay ’14, Tom Califra ’14, Jack DesBois ’15, Leah Sarbib ’15.5, Katie Weatherseed ’17, Dana Tripp ’14, Alexander Burnett ’16, Maggie Cochrane ’16, John Cheesman ’16, Zach Lounsbury ’xx, Boone McCoy-Crisp ’15.5, Emma Eastwood-Paticchio ’16, and Mitchell Perry ’15. Twelve languages are spoken in the play; only Thaiss and Draper play native speakers of English.
The stage manager for “Pentecost” is Kristy Bodall, a New York-based professional. Production design is by Middlebury faculty and staff Mark Evancho (set), Jule Emerson (costumes) and Hallie Zieselman (lighting) and Aubrey Dube ’11 (sound). Nicholas Hemerling ’14.5 and Jake Dombroski ’17 are assistant stage mangers; Paul Ugalde is fight director; Jim Dougherty and Allison Rimmer provide properties and technical direction.
Richard Romagnoli is the director (with Alex Draper). Romagnoli’s last production for the College was the spring production of Howard Barker’s “The Castle.” That play’s subsequent summer 2013 production by the College’s professional theatre company PTPNYC (Potomac Theatre Project) featured actress Jan Maxwell, most recently seen on Broadway in Follies. Critic Ben Brantleyof the New York Times wrote: “The Castle is hugely, disgustingly entertaining…a smart and rowdy production from the Potomac Theatre Project.”
Funding for “Pentecost” and a series of associated activities has been provided by Middlebury College’s Arts Council. Several related curricular events have already taken place this fall: Middlebury’s Rohatyn Center for International Affairs hosted speakerCarl T. Dahlman, Director of International Studies Program at Miami University of Ohio, for a lecture entitled “Yugoslavia Amid Tongues of Fire.” Katy Smith-Abbott, Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture, lectured on Giotto and fresco painting in early October. Next, a Behind-the-Scenes Lunch and Discussion about “Pentecost”will take place on Tuesday, November 19, 2013, at 12:30 P.M., at Wright Memorial Theatre. Lunch will be provided. A $5 donation is suggested; lunch is free of charge to Middlebury College ID card holders.
Performances of “Pentecost” will take place on Thursday, November 21; Friday, November 22; and Saturday, November 23, 2013, at 7:30 P.M. each evening, at Wright Memorial Theatre. The theatre is located at 96 Chateau Road in Middlebury, just off Route 125/College Street. Free parking is available on College Street and in the parking lot behind the theatre, accessible from Shannon Street. Handicap accessible parking is available in front of the theatre on Chateau Road on performance evenings. Tickets are $12 for the general public; $10 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, alumni, emeriti, and other ID card holders; and $6 for Middlebury College students. For tickets or information, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or go to http://go.middlebury.edu/arts.
Image at top: Giotto, Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ), 1306