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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 24, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 21
Back to Bach - Taproot's latest explores an obscure religious dispute
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Back to Bach - Taproot's latest explores an obscure religious dispute

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

BACH AT LEIPZIG
TAPROOT THEATRE
Through June 15


Taproot Theatre can be relied upon to produce solidly acted theater with often excellent technical accompaniment. Some of their choices are lighthearted fare, enjoyable for the evening though not meant to be enormously thought-provoking, and they usually do a fun summer musical of that sort. Some of their choices are more serious, such as this spring's The Whipping Man, about the period immediately after the Civil War. Some probe aspects of religion, such as the play Doubt.

Their current production, Itamar Moses' Bach at Leipzig, seems like an attempt at both a lighthearted, enjoyable evening and a dip into religious thought. Unfortunately, this particular hybrid doesn't end up being all that funny, nor does it really make one want to think much about the theological divisions of Lutheranism in 1722 in Leipzig, Germany.

The cast are all solid talents, many known to Taproot patrons, and include - as either a Johann or Georg - Kevin McKeon, Aaron Lamb, Matt Shimkus, Riley Neldam, Nolan Palmer, Nathan Jeffrey, and Bill Johns (who has exactly zero lines, though it's not clear if he's another organist or Bach). Director Karen Lund is accustomed to presenting comedies, so her abilities are also up to the task. However, perhaps it is a timing issue with this play.

SLOW-PACED DIALOGUE
Lund seems so concerned that the audience understand a somewhat complicated text that she slows down the delivery for clipped clarity. However, much of the dialogue is ponderous, and thus it suffers from the slow speed. Moses' intention might be for it to clip along in the manner of the fugue he seems to be composing.

The second act brings a moment of clarity missing in the first act, when a recap makes it clear that Moses is writing a six-voice fugue into the play, similar to how a musician writes multiple voices sounding together in music. The actors recapitulate the first-act movements with a narration by McKeon. In the same way that audiences can't make out every note of every voice in a fugue, the first act makes too much of each actor's dialogue and might better have picked out particular phrases that should stand out to allow an audience to follow the action.

In a sense, the action itself is slight: a renowned church (organ) music director is dying and several aspirants for his job show up to audition for his position. They are all jealous of each other and have varying points of view on each other's talent and credibility for the job. They jockey to either undercut or support each other with deals or trickery.

The sound design by Mark Lund is particularly fun, as organ music pours through a central doorway only when it's opened, and the courtyard set (also by Lund) and period costumes by Nanette Acosta are apt. All the essential elements for a good show are present, so it devolves to either the script or the director.

Taproot enjoys bringing up religious content for discussion, and it seems likely that this play's exposition about Calvinists and Pietists appealed to them. But the script sheds no light on the conflict and seems more designed to be a conceit of composition (the fugue in six voices, remember?). It's clever, but fundamentally boring. For more information, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call (206) 781-9707.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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