Who knew the Rogue Theatre could be so light and airy?
The company’s current offering is a pitch-perfect production of Itamar Moses’ frothy, fugue-ish farce, “Bach at Leipzig.”
A strong ensemble took us to 1722 Leipzig, Germany. The organist at the famed Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) has died suddenly and many are vying for the primo position.
And almost all of them are willing to lie, cheat and steal to get it.
Moses has written a play that is packed with rich words and not many ideas — but ideas aren’t the motive here; laughter is.
And oh, there is a lot of it.
It starts with the wonderfully outrageous wigs and costumes, which smack of the era and are just over-the-top enough to add some visual humor.
And when the first line is spoken — “My darling Anna: By the time you receive this letter I will have sent it” — we know we are in for lots of ridiculousness.
Now, ridiculousness can get tedious, but this cast — one of the best ensembles we’ve seen on the Rogue’s stage — would have none of that.
They threw themselves into the characters — all actual people hoping to score the job that J.S. Bach eventually got, although Moses has completely made up the story.
Michael Bailey, Hunter Hnat, Ryan Parker Knox, Joseph McGrath, Matt Walley and David Weynand played the musicians with great seriousness, which added, of course, to the humor. Bailey has been a stand-up comic and put his keen timing to good use as the often-befuddled Georg Friedrich Kaufmann, a character he made you love. Hnat was the perfect fop as Johann Martin Steindorff; Knox’s frustration was palpable as the too-often-dismissed Georg Balthasar Schott; McGrath’s Johann Friedrich Fasch was deliciously arrogant but remained tenderhearted; Matt Walley’s pickpocketing Georg Lenck was spot on, and David Weynand was sublime as Johann Christoph Graupner, a neurotic who just wants to be everyone’s No. 1 choice. Holly Griffith has a wordless role as The Greatest Organist in Germany, and she carries herself with an I-am-better-than-you dignity in her few appearances.
Cynthia Meier directed with a visual eye and an obvious love of the material. She shaped a play that was pure joy to watch.
“Bach at Leipzig” is sometimes too contrived for its own good — it’s fugue-like in the way it is structured, and there’s a wonderful discussion of Moliere and what makes good theater that is very funny and a bit like the playwright saying “oh, aren’t I clever?”
But we don’t care. This wordy piece is good old fashioned fun. The Rogue doesn’t indulge in that very often. “Bach at Leipzig” makes us think it should do at least one cut-loose play a season. This play is proof that the company can do that better than most.