CCM’s “Pentecost” Poses a Rewarding Challenge to Audiences

Review by Alan Jozwiak of Pentecost: CCM Drama

Cacaphony. From the French cacophonie, meaning “the quality of having an ill sound; the use of harsh-sounding words or phrases” (Oxford English Dictionary).

Trying to find the origin of a word and its relation to other languages is a game played in the opening scene of Pentecost, as characters remove brick after brick from a wall to reveal a fresco that might change the history of Western Art.

The word cacophony is also an apt way of describing CCM Drama’s latest mainstage offering Pentecost by David Edgar. Set in an unnamed Eastern European country shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, Edgar’s play is a cacophony of competing views and languages. Letting all stakeholders speak within this play, Edgar has characters speak in a variety of different languages: Russian, German, Polish, Arabic, etc. Set against this wave of different languages is a wave of different interpretations surrounding this fresco which might pre-date and have been the inspiration for Giotto’s famous Lamentation fresco in the Arena Chapel in Padua.

This is a play not for the faint of heart, either for the audience-goer or actor. The twenty-six members of the cast (an incredibly large number) all do an outstanding job with their respective roles in speaking different languages or portraying various interest groups within this Eastern European country. Everyone was convincing and there was not one false note. Special praise needs to go to Owen Alderson, the Catholic priest Father Karolyi, who bares all (literally) during Act Two.

The three actors playing the three main characters in this play also deserve praise—Barley Booz and Alison Sluiter as Oliver Davenport and Gabriella Pecs, the scholars who find the fresco, and Landon Hawkins as Leo Katz, the scholar who disputes their claim. The three actors play off of each other like a well-oiled machine, each positing different interpretations and objections to the meaning of the fresco. They do an outstanding job selling the importance of the find and what it means for everyone involved.

Richard Hess does an outstanding job directing this piece. Apart from the strong acting that he was able to get from his actors, Hess does a strong job moving actors on and off stage, a necessity with such a large number of actors. The blocking never felt forced and there was a natural flow to people and characters that felt effortless. Kudos are also in order for Dialect coach D’Arcy Smith, who helped their actors shape their vocal performance. Many of the actors had to memorize foreign languages which are not translated in the final production. The audience has to guess at their meaning through context and body language.

Special praise also needs to go to the scenic designer Mark Halpin who has to create several different versions of the pre-Giotto fresco as it goes through its discovery and restoration. The final product was convincing, as was the tacky Soviet mural that Davenport and Pecs slowly take down to reveal the fresco at the start of the show.

One unusual thing about the stage was the limited number of seats on either side of the stage for audience members to sit. I sat in one of these seats and it gave an unprecedented experience to get up close and personal with the actors. I sometimes sacrificed a sightline or not hearing a line, but was able to see actors react to other actors when their backs were turned towards to audience.

I cannot tell much more about the storyline without giving too much away, except to say that Edgar throws everything into the script—discourses on language, political theorizing, discussions on the meaning of art, ownership of art, and discourses on the nature of being a refugee.

It is all heady stuff and frankly, the density of the mix made it hard at times to digest everything that was being said—a rich speech on politics would quickly follow with a rich speech about art. This is a play that meant to be seen more than once; I don’t think it is possible to absorb it all in one sitting. However, for those willing to devote the time and energy to absorb the show, it does not disappoint.

Pentecost running time is about three hours. It runs from September 30 to October 4, 2015 at 8 pm, with matinees on October 3 and 4 at 2 pm. For ticket information, contact the CCM Box Office at 513-556-4183 or CCM.uc.edu.

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