Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Photo/John Castro

Brecht is a good choice for the Hipgnosis Theater Company: the master of alienation and didactic drama melding with an ensemble that has strong opinions about their texts and illusory free staging in their craft. And of Brecht's plays, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a fine drama, a series of vignettes about social class driven by the struggles of a heroic maid, Grusha (Rachel Tiemann), to care for the abandoned child of the governor's wife (Ayanna Siverls) in the wake of revolution. The play benefits from enthusiastic acting -- especially the hammy turns from John Castro and Richard Ugino -- and though the underground space at 45 Bleecker is too large for clear theater-in-the-round staging, Margot Newkirk's clever direction helps us navigate each arc, and Demetrios Bonaros's music (and voice) mixes neatly with Brecht's lyrics.

At its best, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is drawn as broad farce: a mother charges a fee to offer her deathbed son up for marriage -- this way, Grusha can legitimize her child while still remaining "free" for her true love, the soldier Simon (Douglas Soctt Streater) -- but complains when the monk she hires (cheaper than a priest) turns out to be a drunk, and mourns the loss of the respect she received as a widow when her son, Yussup (Hal Fickett) rises from the dead. At worst, when the energy dies down and Grusha is left to tend to a vague and demanding Yussup, the show meanders. Brecht gets away with much by leaving his exposition to song, but he litters the play with repetition (as you might expect in a circle), and such slow curves only work when they're carried by an actor like John Kevin Jones, who makes Azdak, the rogue judge, into a joyfully corrupt saint.

This production is perhaps a bit too smooth, though: the sardonic edge and peasant panic seems to have been rounded out, and the ensemble often seems to treasure emotive humor over than forceful opinion. As Azdak screams, "If only order had been neglected!" The cast does fine without props and with the bare minimum of costume, but that makes it harder for the audience to conjure up The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and a little more specificity would've gone a long way. That said, and for better or worse, Hipgnosis has put the "fun" in Brecht, and it's an interesting ride.

2 comments:

stiltbat said...

This is cool
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjW1Wcijqrk
great music for it

stiltbat said...

This is cool
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjW1Wcijqrk
great music for it