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THEATER REVIEW Munsterspiel
by Paige Listerud
2019-02-27

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Playwright: Gregory Peters

At: Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N. Sheridan Rd. Tickets: BrownPaperTickets.com/event/3907064 or 800-838-3006. Runs through: March 16

In an era of "fake news" and the day-by-day perpetual fact-checking of every presidential tweet, just how subversive or liberating is the punk/Dadaist/Surrealist motif that nothing is true?

Munsterspiel, by The Plagiarist's Artistic Director Gregory Peters and directed by Jack Dugan Carpenter, gives us an alternate narrative to the received history of the 1534 Anabaptist rebellion in Munster. That received, legitimate, imperialist history recounts a rebellion that began with fervent, religiously-sanctioned release, not just from the corrupted Catholic faith, but also from class structures and private property, only to end in religious demagoguery and despotism and, ultimately, in violent destruction from its surrounding enemies.

Munsterspiel encourages its audience to think differently, although not necessarily truthfully, about that history. Indeed, in Dadaist/Surrealist style, it pokes fun at its own "truthiness" with anachronisms, time travel, intersection of different space/time realities and characters, and an ominous, unseen, hegemonic force that exists to squelch all variation, revolt, or alternative to its overwielding power.

All that the radical Anabaptists of Munster have for their defense is the Word/Logos of God, simply and joyously expounded upon by former baker and itinerant Anabaptist preacher Joe ( Tony Kaehny ). Of course, this Anabaptist communist revolution cannot be allowed to succeed. So, its most immediate enemy, the Prince Bishop Waldeck—played with greasy, debauched conviction by Patrick Zielinski—flees Munster with the intent to return with an army to lay siege and take back the city once under his thrall.

Waldeck is assisted by Artemis ( Jessica Saxvik ) a spy and assassin who does not work for him or even the Catholic Church. Instead, the chilly Artemis serves the eerie Unseen Hand, a collective entity existing beyond space/time, so taken with its own fresh forays into theories of advertising, it assigns "Invisible Touch," the Genesis' pop tune, to be her theme music.

Who says the Unseen Hand can't make mistakes? Although, the bigger mistake seems to be Joe's, when he goes out to meet the Prince Bishop's army nonviolently, accompanied by a paltry retinue of 12 men holding bouquets of roses, only to be slaughtered, his head set on a pike and his genitals nailed to the city gate.

Into his shoes steps a former tailor and itinerant co-preacher John ( Sean McGill ), based upon the historical Jan van Leiden/John of Leiden. Gregory Peter's John is a holy fool, guided and guiding more by nonsense, riddle and prophecy than mundane sense or, possibly, scripture—yet he is a fool who sees through the foolery and deception of others.

It's precisely with John that Peter's script falls short of its promise. For no matter what charm, earnestness and beguiling foolery Sean McGill delivers his performance, the lines themselves fall short of anarchic release and diversion. All in all, this is still a play in need of development.

That's not to say the show is without wit or memorable performances. Grace Hutchings' portrayal of Hille, a young girl who offers herself on a mission to assassinate Waldeck, Judith/Holofernes-style, is heartbreakingly empathetic and real. Joe Feliciano's depth of performance as Bernie, the Anabaptists' one pragmatic religious leader, evolves ever more uneasily and darkly in that pragmatism as the play progresses.

The outcome of the siege of Munster is dark beyond dark. Munsterspiel tries to give the rebellion—if not a happy ending—then a saucy ending and a last laugh. Let's hope it's enough for the next revolution.


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