We can all relate to this. It's time to find a replacement for the recently departed Johann Kunau, the choir leader at Leipzig's Thomaskirsche. Aspirants flock from near and far. They may come from different circumstances (rich, poor), they may have different reasons for applying for the position but, through their music and their time spent in the trenches, they belong to the same musical community. Prone to blackmail and treachery, they are hungry and ambitious.They are also desperate and perhaps out of their minds.
The story takes place outside an audition room. We can't hear the music they've composed for the occasion unless the door to the church opens. This is a clever way to convey the existence of a large church in a shoebox theatre. The snatches of the music we do hear are stately and magnificent. It sings praise to God. The music, the recent death, the solemnity of the occasion suggests, what, a dirge? Hardly. A cross between Monty Python and Amadeus is more like it.
Bach at Leipzig, written by Itamar Moses and directed by Stephanie Coltrin for Little Fish Theatre, is a hilarious story of these musicians who throng on Leipzig to lie, cheat, and worm their way into the vacant and much-coveted position. Candidates include a trio of Johanns -- Johann Friedrich Fasch (Bert Pigg), Johann Martin Steindorff (Drew Shirley), and Johann Christoph Graupner (Garrett Replogle) and a quartet of Georgs -- Georg Balthasar Schott (David Graham), Georg Lenck (Cylan Brown), Georg Friedrich Kaufmann (Don Schlossman), and The Greatest Organist in Germany (Ted Escobar), who happens to be Georg Philipp Telemann. The winner (first name, Johann) doesn't appear in the story, though he does appear in the title. Perhaps he got the job because his music soared with the angels. Perhaps he got it because he didn't associate himself with these seven musical dwarfs.
Though the music they write and perform sounds heavenly, their personalities are anything but. The ensemble effort is nothing short of spectacular. Each tick, each quirk, each idiosyncrasy of the job seekers is played to perfection. Coltrin's energetic pacing pushes the story moving forward and ensures constant laughs.
Letters the men write home to their wives structures the story. Needless to say, what they write and what they do in Leipzig are two different things. The story's funny (the confusion with the names; the running joke about crooks on the road to Leipzig, so each of the jobseekers has to hide their audition piece in very funny places; the petty gamesmanship to secure the post), and it's well structured. On one occasion Coltrin embodies the idea of a fugue (one line of music around which more are woven; if it's done right, it's simultaneous, rich, and harmonious) into the performance. It culminates in a fantastic moment near the end when all seven actors talk at once: not over but with each other. The result describes the production itself: a story line (the vacant position) around which buzz the various stories of the job seekers, culminating in the selection of the church's next Kappelmeister.
Performances are 8pm, Friday and Saturday, 2:00 p.m., Sunday, October 14. The play runs until October 27. The Theatre is located at 777 Centre Street, San Pedro. For more information, call (310) 512-6030 or visit www.littlefishtheatre.org.
Photos courtesy of Mickey Elliot