It won't get the press or audience of Christmassy shows such as SCR's A Christmas Carol. or the Maverick's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but the Hunger Artist Theatre's production of Peter Barnes' The Spirit of Man, might actually come closer to capturing some sense of genuine humanity than any other play produced this month in the county.
Barnes, who died in 2004, was a highly intelligent and politically-fused writer well-steeped in theology and history. Playwright was only one of his hats: He also wrote for radio, TV and film (in 1992, his adaptation of Enchanted April earned him an Academy Awad nomination for best adapted screenplay.
His plays, while frequently carnivalesqe and satirical, are dense and richly literary. They're also rarely produced. (The only Barnes show these eyes can remember seeing locally is a production several years ago at Stages Theatre of Red Noses, a political satire set during the Black Plague in 1348.)
Originally produced as a teleplay for the BBC, The Spirit of Man of man combines Barnes' intellectual passions through three satirical one-acts, each of them examining humanity's need for faith in three eras: medieval France, England under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, and 19th Century Eastern Europe.
But the faiths in question are hardly generic.
The first piece, A Hand Witch of the Second Stage, is about a woman accused of being a witch who attempts to outwit her captors. The second , From Sleep and Shadow, focuses on a Ranter, a member of a group of radical dissenters in 17th Century England who called into question the need for organized religions. The third, The Night of the Sinhat Torah, is about three Jewish men in Poland who decide to get their indifferent deity's attention through singing, dancing and telling stories.
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None of the plays have more than three actors and, in this production, two actors, Anthony Galleranand and Roger Weiss do triple-duty, each appearing in all three pieces.
No, there won't be gun-toting Martians, sexed-up reindeers, or supernatural visitations, but by putting faith under the intellectual microscope, Barnes' play may very well be the most spiritual offering of any theater this holiday season.
Hunger Artists Threatre, 699-A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6803. Open Fri.Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. $15-$18. Thru Dec. 19. www.hungerartists.net