Bach At Leipzig
Bach At Leipzig
By Itamar Moses
Directed by Kevin G. Becker
Empty Spaces Theatre Company at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre</strong>
Lutheran church music should praise of God and edify the congregation, but the politics behind it would overwhelm the Doge of Venice. It’s Tuesday, 1722, and Johann Kuhnau dies unexpectedly. He was the lead organist atthe biggest, baddest church in Leipzig, and his job made him as close to a rock star as the Protestants allow. Still, a job opening is a job opening, and the city council of Leipzig is interviewing qualified applicants. A half dozen show up – J. F. Fasch (Mark Edward Smith) was once Kuhnau’s favorite pupil, G. B. Schott (Tommy Keesling) assisted him in his last years, G. Lenck (Josh Geoghagan) is too broke to afford a middle name, G. F. Kaufmann (Stephen Lima) can’t find the call board, J. M. Steindorf (John Bateman) would prefer to dance, and J. C. Grainer (Kevin Sigman) knows he has the job, so long as someone better like Telemann or J. S. Bach doesn’t spoil things by showing up. As the applicants connive and scheme to either get rid of their competition or do a deal that involves running a boys school, the engage in a theatrical fugue of exposition, countersubject, and stretto. People are drugged, outrageous promises are made and broken, and a wealth of jokes that are only accessible to those schooled in the history of the Counter Reformation fill the room.
OK, so most of the jokes didn’t draw laughs, but it was a small, secular crowd the night I caught this intellectual gem of a show. Still, the backstabbing machinations are enough to make a great comedy, and Mark Edward Smith might be the best intellectual of the lot. He’s sober, confident, and determined to outmaneuver the officious Keesling. John Bateman did the best broad comedy in his whiteface and tights, and closely competed with Geoghagan and his milkmaid’s dress. Sigman’s perpetual number two status and knack for being upstaged by the scene worked in his favor, and I actually rooted for him to get the job. Mr. Lima played a much nicer, gentler role than usual, and he’s most likely to get his house burned for incorrect views on predestination and original sin.
With a set that looked like a pipe organ and well presented music, you might take this as a farce, but I’ve been around church meetings and can assure you that salvation is wrought by committees, and you do NOT want to get appointed chairman to one of them. Director Becker pulled nice, tight show out of this complex script, and even at the most complicated points the thrust and parry of argument stays with you.
For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org