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a drama by David Edgar

Department of Theatre & Drama

Arthur Miller Theatre

October 7 - 17, 2010

Hope Persists in a Fractured World

In Pentecost, a pair of art historians discovers a “missing link” between the Renaissance and Medieval art worlds inside an Eastern European church. While debating plans to restore the painting and relocate it to their national art museum, the church is overrun by a band of refugees searching for sanctuary. The historians are taken hostage as bartering chips for the refugees’ safe passage into the Western world. The play examines the social and political climate in Eastern Europe at the end of the Twentieth Century and the position of displaced persons in the world.

Last winter, David Edgar, author of this season’s Pentecost, visited campus with the Royal Shakespeare Company. While in Ann Arbor, he sat down with the Pentecost company to speak about, among other things, the genesis of his play. Edgar wrote the play after the fall of the Berlin Wall in response to changing attitudes towards Eastern Europe. In 1989, immediately following the fall, Europe was in a state of celebration. Decades of division between East and West were crumbling, and the continent was washed with a unifying sense of community. Within a few years, however, attitudes had changed. The transition from socialist states to independent republics was neither smooth nor bloodless. As war broke out in the East, refugees looking to the West found closing doors. The sense of inclusion and of a European community that had triumphed only years earlier were now replaced with feelings of alarm and exclusion. As the East struggled to find its way, Western Europe became concerned with possible mass immigrations, unsure of the effect that waves of fleeing immigrants might have on their stable cultures. This is the war torn, divided Europe against which Pentecost is set.

The refugees in Pentecost come from disparate, diverse backgrounds, each with its own colorful, rich history. The characters are drawn from across the globe with origins in Africa, Central Asia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia. What they have in common is the strife and struggle in their lives, and the human horror witnessed in their homes. The Twentieth Century has been called the “Century of Genocide” -- as Western colonial rule gave way to fragile democracies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, vicious despots fought their way to power. In Eastern Europe, former Soviet and Yugoslav republics fell into brutal civil wars as political factions used military might to secure governmental control. Ethnic cleansing, the tactical elimination of opposing ethnic groups in order to secure territory for one’s own, were characteristic of these conflicts. In places like Bosnia and Herzegovina, populations of Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks were purged as these ethnic peoples scrambled to divide the former Yugoslavia. In Mozambique, civilians caught in civil war were terrorized, maimed, and murdered without ever really knowing which political party was persecuting them and which was rescuing. For many of the refugees, decades of civil war would mean never knowing a world without violence and fear.

As dire as the situation sounds, the play is not without hope. The title, Pentecost, comes from a biblical story out of the book Acts. In the story, the Holy Spirit rushes over the Apostles and brings them a multitude of tongues to speak in. The Apostles are amazed to find that they can understand each other in these new languages; the barriers of language have been blown away. In Pentecost, the characters begin to understand and relate to each other, circumventing the divisions of language, as well. It is the characters’ humanity that brings them together -- on stage, the refugees and their hostages form a community. They exchange jokes and share the folk stories of their homelands. Edgar uses these scenes to underscore the universalities of these people. The stories are all variations on the same plot with only a little local coloring. When addressing the company, Edgar was careful to draw our attention to the hopefulness buried beneath the play’s conflict. He reminded us that the title’s spirit, the celebratory feast Pentecost, is as important as its meaning.

This underlying hopefulness is not unwarranted. By the end of the 1990’s, many of these displacing wars came to an end. Many of the refugees’ homelands are now entering their second decade of free elections. There are still, of course, numerous conflicts that persist today, and, many people are still unable to return to their homes. In Azerbaijan, peace treaties have not been reached with Armenia, and a shaky cease fire keeps thousands displaced. And in Afghanistan, American and NATO troops continue to combat the Taliban and their allies. However, in many parts of the world, the scars of the Twentieth century are healing, and the post-Socialist and post-Colonial worlds are convalescing into stable democracies. As the characters discover, the lexicon of the Modern age includes combative words such as shrapnel, ambush, and flight; discriminating words such as roadblock, buffer, and quota; but also, words such as huddled, yearning, and free.

Matthew Bouse, Dramaturg

Bachelor of Theater Arts, Class of 2011


Return to the Pentecost main page

giotto lamentation

Artistic Staff

Director Malcolm Tulip
Scenic Designer Marguerite Woodward
Costume Designer Corey Lubowich
Lighting Designer Adam McCarthy
Sound Designer Colin Fulton
Stage Manager

Rachael Albert


WSJ article on religious archeological find in Bulgaria

Information on Giotto's Lamentation



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Photography Credits:

U-M Photo Services

Joe Welsh

Peter Smith

David Smith

Glen Behring

Tom Bower