Sunday, January 26, 2014

Herr Bertolt Brecht

Last night I saw Classic Stage Company's production of Brecht's A Man's a Man. Duncan Sheik provided the music for the songs, which included meta-theatrical references to "Herr Bertolt Brecht." The stand-out cast member was Justin Vivian Bond, better known as the Kiki half of the duo Kiki and Herb. He played Widow Begbick and also came out at intermission to sing a song that had been "cut from the second act."

Sheik used prerecorded music to accompany the actors, as the small three-quarter-round theatre used by CSC would never have been able to fit all of the musicians needed for the highly produced sound he wanted. (Not that the non-profit theatre could have afforded to hire them all, anyway.) The set, designed by Paul Steinberg, creatively used a number of what appeared to be orange oil drums. Justin Townsend's lighting design somehow managed to make the entire stage appear black-and-white at times, and other times in bright color. I'm still trying to figure out how that worked.

Brecht wrote A Man's a Man between 1924 and 1926, so the program said the play was set in "1925 or thereabouts, in an India that is suspiciously Rudyard Kipling-like." Brecht loved Kipling and was clearly influenced by his work, particularly in this play, which involves the construction of a fake elephant that then gets auctioned off as part of the plot. The play's climax actually takes place in Tibet. The anti-war sentiments at the end show that the disillusionment of WWI was another major factor in the piece.

By 1924, Brecht had written Baal, Drums in the Night, and In the Jungle of Cities, a trio of Expressionist works for which he had received the Kleist Prize for drama. (He had also written an early version of Die Kleinburgerhochzeit, which I saw in Germany last summer at the Ruhrfestspiele.) It was just after A Man's a Man, in the period from 1927 to 1930, that Brecht teamed up with composer Kurt Weill and fellow writer Elizabeth Hauptman on his most famous musical plays, The Three-Penny Opera, Happy End, and The Rise and Fall of the City Mahagonny.

CSC Artistic Director Brian Kulick helmed this production, following up another Brecht play he did last season, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. If you're interested in CSC's latest Brecht outing, it will be playing until February 16th. For more information go here:

Classic Stage Company