In Moses' fictional telling, contenders attempt to deceive, blackmail, slander, extort, or bribe one another. Some resort to kidnapping and wrongful imprisonment. It's not your kid's American Idol; there's no Simon Cowell to cow them into behaving.
At People's Light, six skilled performers turn it into a midsummer must-see. Moses differentiates each role nonmusically, making one a thief (the sly Jabari Brisport as Georg Lenck), another a philanderer (the remarkable Danny Gardner as Johann Steindorff). There's a naive dunce (Stephen Novelli as Georg Friedrich Kaufmann), a principled family man (Greg Wood, his timing never better as Johann Fasch), an overlooked and embittered also-ran (Kevin Bergen's Georg Schott), and a vicious egotist (David Ingram, marvelous in little stage time as Johann Graupner).
If you noticed that all of their names begin with Johann or Georg, well . . . that forms the basis of (too) many Marx Brothers-style jokes. Moreover, Moses structures the plot along the lines of a fugue, introducing a theme or idea and letting each role reenact it in variation.
Pete Pryor's quick-timed direction and the cast's talents let us laugh anew at each iteration, which become more ridiculous at every turn and culminate in a rollicking 10-minute swordfight (choreographed by Samantha Bellomo).
Moses' play is a little too self-congratulatory for its own good, and after the extended combat scene, the production struggles to return to any semblance of seriousness. But this minor misgiving can't detract from the two hours of fun, and this Bach will beat anything you'll see on a TV screen this summer, reality or otherwise.
Bach at Leipzig
Through Aug. 10 at People's Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Tickets: $26-$46. 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org.