The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Journeymen, at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church. Playwright Peter Shaffer declared that his purpose in writing this tale, about Pizarro’s last journey to Peru, was to create “an experience that was entirely, and only, theatrical.” He succeeded, perhaps too well. But from this speculative saga Journeymen director Frank Pullen has forged a production of unsettling immediacy, steeped in mystery and wonder. The title plays on Inca chief Atahuallpa’s claim that he’s a sun god–and the story includes images of epic proportions: the Spanish conquistadores’ agonizing ascent of the Andes, a room filled with the gold they demand as ransom for the captured Inca king, the massacre of three thousand natives. This kind of spectacle requires a likewise gargantuan text.

But Pullen excises all extraneous action and characters to highlight the tragedy of Pizarro and Atahuallpa, whose cross-cultural bonding is cut short by the expediencies of government, church, and imperialism. Derrick Nelson gives the doomed monarch a dignity free of noble-savage cliche, while Gene Cordon has great presence as the old scribe who serves as our narrator; his younger incarnation is given a painful idealism by Mickey Tuman. Tony Casale’s de Soto projects a soldierly resolve, but Greg Kolack renders Valverde so unsavory as to undermine the character’s credibility. At the center of the story is the aged, embittered Pizarro, played by Don Bender with a vigor and conviction that hold us rapt despite Shaffer’s sometimes murky text.