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“The Iron Curtain Trilogy” by David Edgar Is as Relevant Today as It Was When It Was Written

Brian Linden stars as Pavel Prus in "The Shape of the Table" by David Edgar (photo by Jason Dail)

Brian Linden stars as Pavel Prus in “The Shape of the Table” by David Edgar (photo by Jason Dail)

British playwright David Edgar wrote the plays The Shape of the Table (1990), Pentecost (1994), and The Prisoner’s Dilemma (2002) between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the experience we know as 9/11. Each has been performed successfully in the past by Burning Coal Theatre Company, and they are now presented in repertory form for the first time in the world, in celebration of the tearing down of that Berlin Wall on Nov. 9th, 1989.

The Iron Curtain Trilogy is an impressive opus, thick with themes of culture, art, migration, and refugees, ancient and modern history, political change, striking differences between Western and Eastern European world views, the influence of American and British morés, the nature of negotiation, the plexus and conflict of Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox religions, language, war and peace, rock and roll and Coca-Cola to name a few. The impact can be overwhelming.

Jerome Davis, artistic director of Burning Coal Theatre Company and director of The Iron Curtain Trilogy, has undertaken an Herculean task and accomplished it very successfully. The simple mechanics, scene changes, line delivery, character placement, and movement are artistic and precise. Whether the stage becomes suddenly flooded with arms-toting marauders or emptied down to two irreconcilable opponents, the action is clean and hasty although still evoking chaos.

Emotions run high among the ideological adversaries in these plays, so the volume reaches nerve-jittering levels sometimes; but the conflicts portrayed justify the intensity. The large cast and Matthew Haber’s three distinctly different sets — which also included different audience configurations — persuaded director Jerome Davis to move these shows into a different venue in the Warehouse District of Raleigh, at 117 S. West St. Twenty-five actors — all of whom play multiple roles — supported by 17 crew members staff the shows.

The title of The Shape of the Table refers to the ridiculous negotiations that occurred during the Paris Peace Accords talks of 1973, during the Vietnam War. In this play, it also refers to the shifting alliances and disagreements among the parties to talks attempting to establish a government while on the brink of anarchy. Brian Linden is especially noteworthy as Pavel Prus, the activist prisoner being offered a questionable opportunity. Equally commendable are Jeff Aguiar as Jan Milev, Brook North as Jan Matkovic and Hope Hynes Love as Monica Freie.

The Burning Coal Theatre Company cast for David Edgar's "Pentecost" (photo by Jason Dail)

The Burning Coal Theatre Company cast for David Edgar’s “Pentecost” (photo by Jason Dail)

Pentecost, the meatiest of the trio, concerns the discovery of a fresco that may have been painted by Giotto di Bondone, considered to be the most important artist of the 14th Century, in an abandoned church. The multitude of factions that impinge on this issue, including the unexpected arrival of a group of displaced disparate refugees, make for a lively entertainment and heavy drama. Brian Linden (as Leo Katz), Marc Carver (as Oliver Davenport), Jeanine Frost (as Yasmin), Hope Hynes Love (as Gabriella Pecs), and Steph Scribner (as Tunu, the Sri Lankan) do outstanding work in this play.

The title of The Prisoner’s Dilemma comes from a game-theory exercise, dealing with acting on one’s own best interests. The play deals with a country so divided the United Nations has stepped in to ease tensions between the fighting factions. Dramatist David Edgar weaves his plot among theory, language, and action. Kudos to Julie Oliver, who appears in all three shows, for her work in this one as Floss Weatherby. Also performing in all three plays is Jeff Aguiar, who played two roles in The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and handles the brutality of Nikolai with a cold bloodedness that is heart stopping.

Jeanine Frost is commanding as Gina Olssen, and also plays a displaced mother. David Skagg debuts as Jan, the son of the Finnish negotiator. We expect to see more of him on stage after this fine start.

Although we have highlighted the performances of several of the cast, these three plays are very much ensembles pieces; and all actors did highly commendable work. There are a lot of costumes in these plays and many performers make several changes in each show. Costume designer Caitlin Cisek provides realistic garb — from rags to pin stripes to ethnic wear to military uniforms, each telling a part of the story for its character.

The Iron Curtain Trilogy is a set of shows well worth attending. They can be seen in any order, but are shown Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the order that they were written: The Shape of the Table (1990), Pentecost (1994), and The Prisoner’s Dilemma (2002). These productions are also traveling to England, where they will go up at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone in northwest London from Nov. 13th through 30th. The Triangle can be proud that Burning Coal Theatre Company and its sponsors have embarked on this great adventure.

Jeanine Frost and the ensemble in David Edgar's "The Prisoner's Dilemma" (photo by Jason Dail)

Jeanine Frost and the ensemble in David Edgar’s “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” (photo by Jason Dail)

SECOND OPINION: Sept. 4th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC 91.5 interview with playwright David Edgar, Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis, and actors Brian Linden and Timothy Davis, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”:; and Aug. 31st Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks:

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents David Edgar’s IRON CURTAIN TRILOGY: THE SHAPE OF THE TABLE: at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 2 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14, and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18 and 25; PENTECOST: at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 and 19, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20, and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26; THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA: at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, 2 p.m. Sept. 21, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 in the Coca-Cola Warehouse, 117 S. West St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27603.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, active-duty military personnel, and groups of 10 or more and $20 seniors 65+), except $15 on Thursdays and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain).

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or


The Shape of the Table


The Prisoner’s Dilemma






The Shape of the Table (1990 play): (Nick Hern Books) and (Wikipedia).

Pentecost (1994 play): (Nick Hern Books).

The Prisoner’s Dilemma (2002 play): (Nick Hern Books) and (Wikipedia).

David Edgar (Birmingham, England-born playwright): (British Council Contemporary Writers bio) and (Wikipedia).

Jerome Davis (Raleigh, NC director): (Burning Coal bio) and (Facebook page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews