"Bach at Leipzig"

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"Bach at Leipzig"

Post by SamLowry » Tue Feb 20, 2007 10:03 am

It's difficult to describe "Bach at Leipzig." But it's easy to enjoy it
Theater Critic

Playwright Itamar Moses' unlikely but undeniably amusing script is set in summer 1722, when Johann Sebastian Bach became the organ master at St. Thomas Lutheran Church. But Bach himself is never seen in the play, a cloak-and-dagger comedy that deals with a cadre of other competitors and their farcical, futile machinations to gain the prestigious post for themselves.

Moses has a distinctive voice, but it's one that's been listening to those of Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn. Like the authors of "The Real Thing" and "Democracy" (which also have played local stages recently), Moses packs his dialogue with intellectual bite, snappy wordplay and a wickedly sharp sense of humor unafraid to delve into the earthier absurdity of Monty Python.

Commenting, for instance, on the death of the previous organ master, who keeled over at the keyboard while playing, one would-be successor observes that "he performed his own dirge with his face."

That sort of writing can be a recipe for pretension for a young playwright, but Moses handles the material with nuance, maturity and a sure-handed sense of flair.

In the second act, Moses, through the character named Johan Friedrich Fasch, offers the audience a little lesson in musical theory — specifically, the construction of a fugue.

The glibly pedantic speech is accompanied by a mad dance of the other composers, acting out Fasch's description. Delivered with savoir-faire by John Middleton, staged with alacrity by director Rob Goudy and accompanied by a booming Bach fugue in Katharine Horowitz's wry, ear-pleasing sound design, it's a tight, tiny tour de force.

Goudy's direction is consistently deft, and his seven-man cast offers appropriately outsized and distinctive performances — an especially important task when all of the characters are named either Johann or Georg in one of the show's many running verbal gags.

Along with Middleton's stiff-upper-lip turn, there are a couple of other standouts. Peter Hansen is slick and sly as a composer whose love for music is exceeded only by his affection for gambling. As another would-be organ master, Bob Malos is a prickly and bombastic strict musical constructionist.

David Coral, Seth Patterson and Joseph Botten also make able contributions, as does the regal Adam King, who never utters a word as the Greatest Organist in Germany.

Their performances, carried out on Tamatha Miller's set of Gothic arches, help keep this comedy aloft. An intriguing and toothsome blend of highbrow and low, "Bach at Leipzig" is part music history lesson, part screwball comedy, part introduction to a promising young playwright. Put it all together, and it's 100 percent worth seeing.

Theater critic Dominic P. Papatola can be reached at dpapatola@pioneerpress.com or at 651-228-2165.

What: The area premiere of "Bach at Leipzig," staged by Gremlin Theatre

When: through March 11

Where: Loading Dock Theater, 509 Sibley St., St. Paul

Tickets: $18

Call: 651-228-7008

Capsule: Who'd've known 18th century liturgical music could be so funny?



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