Pentecost | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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PENTECOST, Plan B Productions, at the Theatre Building. Director Warner Crocker likes to paint on a broad canvas, as in his powerhouse staging of The Kentucky Cycle. This play--a multilingual tour d'ensemble by British playwright David Edgar--is another such sprawling work: raw and loud, it centers on a besieged Balkan church, the catalyst for a climactic clash of cultures. Jeff Bauer's set transforms the Theatre Building space into a crumbling sanctuary drowning in ancient murk.

In Edgar's three-hour parable of cultural relativism, a dispute develops over a newly discovered fresco. If authentic, the painting will expose the western European bias of art history: the Renaissance, it seems, didn't begin in the 14th century with Giotto--the Italian master was anticipated by an obscure Bosnian painter in 1220. Ironically, Western art began in a backwater that typifies bigotry and barbarism. Edgar zestfully depicts the forces squabbling over the find: clerics, preservationists, nationalists, revisionists, purists. In the tumultuous second act, the church is improbably taken over by a multicultural band of asylum seekers. However metaphorical, the hostage taking ends in real bloodshed.

Speaking nine languages with intimidating authority, the 21 cast members forcefully deliver Edgar's invigorating if frenzied arguments. Among many well-orchestrated speakers in this Tower of Babel, David Engel strikes fire as a zealous art conservator, Lesley Bevan embodies a broken nation as a beleaguered Bosnian curator, and John Alcott eloquently guesses the fresco's riddle. Messy and magnificent, Pentecost is Chicago theater at its bold best. --Lawrence Bommer

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