Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: Clash of the Cultures

When you walk out of a theater moved or touched or provoked, that work of art has, in some way, affected you. For those who are theater regulars, that may not happen all that often. In David Edgar's sensational Pentecost, feelings will be evoked. Thoughts will be had. And the beauty is, not everyone's views will be the same. Which is quite fitting for the work.
Tackling everything from the origin of Western Renaissance Art to pop culture to heritage to rights and freedoms, Pentecost follows art curator Gabriella Pecs and art historian Oliver Davenport as they search for the origins of her artistic discovery hidden away in a church. As a barrage of political and religious representatives attempt to take ownership of the work and where its home should be, everything is turned on its head when American art historian Leo Katz claims the work of art may not be what it appears to be. And just when you think that’s the end, everything is again turned on its head when a group of political asylum seekers rush the church and hold the trio hostage in hopes of a new life of freedom. Pentecost is an intellectually stimulating language play about art, culture, and humanity. The play feels like a realistic "National Treasure", just missing an appearance from Nicholas Cage. Edgar is not afraid to tackle the big issues and presents them in a beautifully stimulating fashion.
Pentecost may look like an epic play, but with a willing ensemble and impeccable direction by Cheryl Faraone, Pentecost is non-stop action from start to finish. As the main trio, Jonathan Tindle, Alex Draper, and Tosca Giustini were top notch as Oliver, Leo, and Gabriella respectively. Tindle and Draper were brilliant foils for one another. Tindle was likeable as Oliver Davenport. Draper’s Leo Katz began as a character you love to hate, but as Act II drew on, Draper’s conceded and boisterous character made a lovely change. Guistini is wonderful in her characterization as the ball of energy Gabriella, but was held back a tad with her dialect work, as at times, the clarity of her words were difficult to understand with her speaking speed. Within the ensemble, there were some beautiful performances that stood out including Christo Grabowski as nice guy Father Per Karolyi, Lilli Stein as joke-sharing Bosnian Amira, Lily Balsen as woman of few words Fatima the Kurd, Aubrey Dube as the fun gun carrying Antonio, and Chelsea Melone as the wonderfully hilarious and scene-stealing Toni Newsome. Mari Vial Golden as Yasmin, the mouthpiece of the renegades, held her own through her dominance and emotion throughout Act II.
To keep an audience engaged and willing to go on this incredible journey is a testament to great direction. Cheryl Faraone kept the world active, keeping the stakes high throughout, even when it was just a story about art. For a work with such weight and abundance of themes, Faraone took Edgar’s script and brought the audience along on the journey, pinpointing the essential. Mark Evancho's set was transformative. Using the theater's architecture as a jumping off point, the cohesiveness of theater and set was beautifully converted into a rundown church. Faraone and Evancho truly invited the audience into the world of the play, feeling as if you were a part of the action. The costume design by Adrienne Carlile, with the original design by Jule Emerson, evoked the times wonderfully, giving each character an identity. Hallie Zieselman’s lighting was quite effective, offering some stunning moments with theatrical magic.
To say Pentecost is not a difficult play to tackle would be a lie. Yet PTP/NYC did it with such ease. Pentecost is not to be missed. The emotional journey this piece will take you on is remarkable.