Friday, February 19, 2010

Returning to the Circle

One of the surprises when I entered my freshman undergraduate year was that I tested so high in German that I was put in an advanced literature class where most of the other classmates were graduate students. A rather stern group, as I recall, and I was a bit intimidated, but I was glad that we'd be reading Kafka's Metamorphesis which I'd only read in English up to that point.

However, the first story we were to read was Bertolt Brecht's Der Augsburger Kreidekreis (The Ausburg Chalk Circle). This short fable set in war time raised the question about what determines a worthy parent stuck with me through the years. I have always wanted to see a production of Brecht's play The Caucasian Chalk Circle which is an evolution of his story which he borrowed or stole from ancient China.

Last night I got to see the opening preview of the American Conservatory Theater's production directed by John Doyle, noted minimalist who had great success with deconstructionist versions of Sweeney Todd and Company. While certain Brechtian influences figure heavily in the former and this production had some of that show's cast members, deconstructing Brecht is a tricky business.
The play is intentionally disjointed, non-realistic and didactic. If you don't like being preached at, don't go see Brecht. What's most difficult with Brecht is whether or not there can be any emotion or heart injected into the presentation of the characters which are archetypes and representations after all. The cast in this production featured actors who did seem to go beyond archetypes, but when they were engaging, I'm not sure what I was engaged with. Especially engaging were Omozé Idehenre as the surrogate mother on trial and Manoel Felciano as the singer/narrator who has a particularly fetching voice and played Tobias in Doyle's production of Sweeney Todd. Though I wonder if I would have enjoyed him more in Ragtime. It's fitting that he played the same role Mandy Patinkin played in the movie version of the same story since he recalled a younger Patinkin in voice and demeanor.

The show featured songs but is certainly not a musical. Those songs are certainly where the show is most didactic. I came away finding the whole production engaging enough but not compelling. Brecht is ever the curious creature to watch and read, but it's hard to remember what the point was the morning after. However, after exploring Manoel's website linked above, it appears he has Catalan heritage and has at least one song you can download from his site in Catalan. That alone made the night worthwhile.

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At 3:55 PM, Blogger The Blue Elephant said...

I hope I can make it to this production, and I hope it comes anywhere near the production I saw with some people who really understood how to present Brecht -- people we were sorry to lose to the draw of NYC: "The Actor's Workshop -- Founded in 1952 by two professors from San Francisco State College, Herbert Blau and Jules Irving, it rapidly became the city's leading regional theatre. The use of the singular in the name was a conscious decision since it was the founders' intention to offer 'a place where each individual could pursue his craft.' After two years in a loft and a highly praised mounting of Lorca's Blood Wedding, the troupe moved to an abandoned warehouse. A year later it took over the Marines' Memorial Theatre. Although the company occasionally presented classics, it was best known for its interpretation of modern avant‐garde and politically oriented works. Among its noteworthy productions were Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Birthday Party, and Waiting for Godot. It gave performances at the Brussels and Seattle World's Fairs and initiated a workshop for prisoners at San Quentin. After Blau and Irving left in 1965 to head the new theatre at Lincoln Center, it fell apart, despite sporadic attempts to keep it going."


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