'Pentecost' stands strong as 'U' theater's tower of Babel

BY PROMA KHOSLA
Daily Arts Writer
Published October 13, 2010

“You have taught oh-so much; much more of you than you will ever take the pains to learn of us," says Yasmin, a character in the Department of Theatre & Drama’s first production of the year, “Pentecost.” Yasmin’s words challenge the Western world to imagine other nationalities in all of their complexities instead of disregarding them as names on a map. This idea pervades the production, which features extended dialogue in Arabic, Bulgarian, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Azari and Sinhalese.

Pentecost


Through Oct. 17, Thurs. at 7:30 p.m.,
Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m.

Arthur Miller Theatre
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“One of the themes of the play is the Tower of Babel,” said Music, Theatre & Dance junior Emily Berman, who plays Gabriella Pecs. “You have all these characters on stage speaking different languages that the audience doesn’t necessarily understand, but it’s constructed such that the audience is given the information they need in English. It’s this beautiful story about people who are very different ... meeting in a place and connecting on the level that humans are all the same in some ways. It’s very universal in that way and it’s been fun exploring that.”

Berman’s character finds a painting in an abandoned church in the 1990s that might bridge the gap between the Renaissance and Medieval periods of art history. As characters meet and interact in the church, they must confront personal attitudes toward art history, politics, religion and each other’s cultures in war-torn Eastern Europe.

“The way this play works is that it really gives you interest in what exactly these people are saying and what is going on. As the audience learns about these characters, the characters are learning about each other,” Berman said.

David Edgar, the playwright who penned “Pentecost,” met with the cast and crew last spring and explained that audiences do not need any prior understanding of European and Middle Eastern languages to see the play. Though all vital information is delivered in English, the linguistic cacophony prompts audiences to pay special attention to gestures and emotion, thereby overcoming the language barrier the same way the characters do.

“It gets to a point where it doesn’t matter what language they’re speaking. Because of the way they’re physically expressing themselves and the connection between the group as a whole, the language barrier kind of disappears and you’re able to understand,” said MT&D senior Joey Richter, who plays Oliver.

To prepare the cast and crew, Director and MT&D professor Malcolm Tulip, along with MT&D senior Matthew Bouse, (the dramaturgist or reasearcher for the play), gave the class some homework: The two set up a CTools site that included information about wars in Europe and images of Giotto di Bondone’s artwork, a central subject in the show.

“There’s been a lot of background work on everybody’s part,” said MT&D sophomore Allison Brown, who plays Yasmin. “We’ve all worked really hard on dialects and getting accents down. We had our lines said for us on the CTools site. My character is Arabic and needs to sound Arabic, without a doubt. You do, absolutely, have to have an understanding for it or else the words would be meaningless.”

Tulip made sure his production team was completely immersed in the time period and culture of Edgar’s piece in order to best connect with the story.

“The dialogue between Malcolm and the cast was so stimulating,” said stage manager and MT&D junior, Rachael Albert. “They talked at length about the meaning of different sections and oftentimes the final realization was one that neither party had originally thought.”

“We spent days in those initial rehearsals not even getting up on our feet but watching videos of different cultures and the way that they danced or the way they spoke. The show is about the perception of people,” Richter said.

“Pentecost” challenged perceptions of diversity and oneness behind the scenes as well.

“Costuming the refugees was a unique challenge to this play,” said costume designer Corey Lubowich, and MT&D senior. “While the group is very diverse and come from different countries, it was important that they were all wearing clothes and not costumes. They aren't wearing traditional ethnic clothing, but real clothes (with clear influence from the west).”

Lubowich’s designs and the set created by MT&D senior Marguerite Woodward mirror Edgar’s notion that cultural differences are often just external. In an unnamed country in continent ravaged by conflict, Edgar’s play emphasizes human connections.

“The most amazing thing about Pentecost ... was the theme of universality of different cultures, races, and religions across the world,” Albert added. “Stories have common themes and messages world wide, and despite the language barrier, everyone was able to somehow understand each other.”