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Who’s Culture is it Anyway?

A Review of the Potomac Theatre Project’s production of David Edgar’s Pentecost, Directed by Cheryl Farina

David Edgar’s play, Pentecost is rarely produced because of its large and ethnically diverse casting requirements, the political and complicated nature of the subject matter, and because the play poses a question that most people find difficult to answer: what is the value of cultural heritage?

I wanted to see this play for a while. A friend recommended it to me years ago, and loaned me the script. Reading through, I found myself constantly referring to the list of characters at the beginning of the script to understand who was speaking, in what language, and what ethnicity they are. Identity and authenticity matter a great deal in the play when a piece of artwork is discovered within an abandoned church in an Eastern European country.

Pentecost 4-p-2

This unnamed locale references many countries wrestling with a complex cultural identity that is the result of a history rife with war, foreign influence and occupation. The ownership of the artwork is contested by those that have laid claim on the church itself, which has changed hands numerous times, but only when it becomes clear that the artwork may be of significant value. Suddenly national pride, cultural heritage, religious influence, the legacy of WWII, and the shadow of communism each have some stake in the determining the future of this painting. Claiming that it belongs to any party affiliated with these influences is to deny the tapestry of its historical significance.

After the play I walked across the street to Wrapido, a kind of pan-Mediterranean fast food establishment, to get a bite. I ordered a chicken shwarma wrap, bastardized to perfection by guacamole, cheese, and iceberg lettuce. In the background, the final moments of the World Cup match between Germany and Argentina played out to a captivated audience of Korean teenagers and Israeli and Latino Wrapido employees. As I chomped into my cultural melange sandwich, I realized that everything about that moment connected the themes of this play.

 

Conflicting, even contradictory cultural influences came together to create a singular moment in time- history in the making as Germany clinched the title- just as hundreds of years earlier the unknown painter in the play happened to be in that church by accident, and had brought with him all the influences of his travels and life experience to create a single piece of artwork that would stand as a testament to that moment.

Pentecost 6-p

This got me thinking about Harlem. Who owns it? Who belongs here? Is it what it used to be? Who has a right to attend services at Abyssinian Baptist Church, or call Sylvia’s their favorite restaurant? Who has the right to claim Lenox Lounge, or the Apollo? If you ask Charlie Rangel you might get one answer, but so much of what makes Harlem a cultural landmark, are the layers of history that are visible to the naked eye that take us up to the present day.

Just the way that in Pentecost, the art historian Leon Katz played by Alex Draper, argues that ancient works of art should not be restored to a squeaky clean perfected version of themselves, because the process of stripping away the layers of wear denies the piece the historical significance it has earned.

It makes me wonder if there is a middle ground. Could you preserve a cultural specimen enough to make it last a little longer, knowing full well that nothing lasts forever? Take for example the Corn Exchange Building on 125th and Park, which is currently undergoing a renovation that will keep in tact most of the original structure and integrity of the architecture, but will build upon it to create a new modern space. How do we recognize and preserve our divided past in a way that welcomes and celebrates our shared future? These icons of cultural heritage serve as potent reminders of what came before, a lesson that should never be forgotten.

New York, NY – PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project), in association with Middlebury College, proudly presents its 28th repertory season, its 8th consecutive in New York, running from July 8 – August 10, 2014 in a limited 5-week Off-Broadway engagement at The Atlantic Stage 2, located at 330 West 16th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues in New York City.

This season’s line-up includes the U.S. Premiere of Howard Barker’s Gertrude – The Cry, directed by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, and a revival of David Edgar’s Pentecost, directed by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Cheryl Faraone. Previews begin on July 8 and openings begin on July 15.

Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30pm, and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The schedule varies – for exact days and times go to http://www.PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $35 and $18 for students and seniors and can be purchased online at http://www.PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For info visithttp://www.PTPNYC.org, Like them on Facebook athttps://www.Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256 and follow on Twitter at @ptpnyc.

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About jjelfar

Art. Hustle Harlem, Creative Director of Harlem Festival of the Arts. BA in Theatre Arts, Brandeis University. follow me on Twitter @jjelfar

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This entry was posted on July 16, 2014 by in Art, Churches, Theater, Uptown/Downtown, Weekend Guide and tagged , , , , , .
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