Aaron Lockman is an actor and playwright. Credits include Metropolis Theatre, Citadel Theatre, Eclectic Full Contact Theatre, the side project, Surging Films and Theatrics, and The Living Room. His plays have been seen at The Theater at Monmouth, Mary's Attic, Prop Theatre, and Columbia College. Aaron also writes reviews with Rescripted.org. You can hear his voice on the podcast The Audio Diary of Aaron Lockman, or on the audiobooks Surviving Hitler, Locke and Key, and The X-Files: Cold Cases. You might also have seen him narrating sky shows at the Adler Planetarium. Aaron enjoys walking dogs, playing with Legos, talking excitedly about astronomy, and making annoying puns. http://aaronlockman.com
Pictured: Jessica Saxvik and Joe Feliciano. Photo by Joe Mazza at BraveLux.
By Aaron Lockman
MÜNSTERSPIEL is the true story of the Münster Rebellion, an incident in 1534 when a group of radical Anabaptists managed to take over a town in northeastern Germany, until the Catholic church managed to kill the movement’s leaders and wrest control back. It is also the story, I think, of a time-traveling assassin (Jessica Saxvik) who, under orders from her glowy, globular overlord, deliberately sabotages the rebellion from within in order to maintain the integrity of the space-time continuum? And it is also the story of a normal twenty-first-century girl (Elaine Small) who is displaced in time and made to witness these events firsthand, while lending her drumming skills in order to punctuate the occasional joke?
There is obviously a lot going on here, much of it bizarre and seemingly incongruous. And the frustrating thing about MÜNSTERSPIEL is that it almost works.
Because I get what playwright Gregory Peters is going for here. At its core, this show is a satirical look at a depressing moment in history that feels relevant to our current struggle. He paints the Anabaptists as a small, scrappy group of underdogs facing impossible odds against the powerful political juggernaut of the Catholic church. And the anachronistic elements – not just the time travel, but the visions of future inventions and words that plague multiple characters – contribute to a heightened, satirical, and almost Brechtian feel that works quite well. The otherworldly elements aren’t what’s wrong here; it’s that there are too many of them, jammed into too many places, with too few satisfying payoffs.
The cast here is largely very strong. Sean McGill as John, the de facto leader of the Anabaptists, has by far the meatiest and funniest role. John’s speech is equal parts nonsensical, anachronistic, and hilarious, and McGill gives the role charisma, wit, and earnestness. Small has some lovely moments as Jane, the girl out of time – simultaneously blending in as just another one of the gang, and giving a necessary (and often quite sad) sense of scope to the proceedings. Saxvik has delightfully evil/badass moments as temporal assassin Artemis. Tony Kaehny has a very comforting presence as the equally wise and foolish Joe, the more spiritual man of the rebellion; and Joe Feliciano is quite entertaining to watch as Bernie, the straight man to the rest of the group’s antics. But the rest of the cast get one or two moments to shine at most, and as a result, many characters feel wasted and extraneous.
There are some technical decisions here that are downright inspired. Artemis’s ominous boss is represented by an orb that descends from the ceiling and glows red or green at key spooky moments. And when it speaks, it speaks in a digitalized cacophony of every character’s voice. Artemis and her boss, while the most inaccurate characters historically, are necessary here because they are a stand-in for every unjust power system that has ever ruled, be it religious or capitalist. And so representing them in as faceless a manner as possible is a very effective choice.
In addition, the combat from fight director Tristin Hall is precise and believable, and director Jack Dugan Carpenter clearly excels in choreographing physical comedy. There are some awkward stage pictures, including an unfortunate tendency in which the cast inevitably forms a semicircle shape when standing in large numbers onstage – but this is largely rectified by this cast’s clear devotion to the text, and chemistry with each other. They are an enthusiastic bunch, and their connection with the playwright’s delightfully loopy language is palpable.
The bones, the structure of the thing, are strong here, but it’s in the lack of editing that this show sags. Each scene goes on for just long enough to lose my attention halfway through. There are at least three unnecessary subplots that distract from the main story rather than adding to it.
There’s no shortage of good in MÜNSTERSPIEL. It still succeeds somewhat as a satirical look at the omnipresent, never-ending political struggle that will always plague the unlucky underdogs of our planet. But as is, it needs to be significantly tightened up before it has staying power.
MÜNSTERSPIEL runs through March 16. For more information visit theplagiarists.org.