Performances, TheaterMark Rudio

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Performances, TheaterMark Rudio

A.C.T.'s production of Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle is somehow billed on the program and some promotional materials as a "world premiere." I not sure what they mean by this, since the play, written in 1944 actually had its first performance in 1948 in Minnesota of all places. It premiered in Germany in 1954 and has had steady performances since around the world. So what's up that? I really don't know. That's one of the confounding things about the company, which is as likely to put on something fantastic (Brief Encounter, Enrico IV) as it is something terrible (War Music) - one never really knows what one is in for when you walk through the door ever since Marco Barricelli left the company a few years back. Take heart though, Barricelli returns next month with Olivia Dukakis in Morris Panych's dark comedy Vigil. In the meantime, we have Brecht's parable, which isn't the worst thing they've put onstage recently, but it's not going to be looked back on as one of the company's highlights.

Part of this is the fault of the play itself, which even director John Doyle (who helmed the great Sweeney Todd a couple of seasons back) admits is "not a well-made play." Question to Doyle and A.C.T. director Carey Perloff- if it's admittedly not well-made, then why do it? I guess there are reasons, but few come to mind. In the program interview by Elizabeth Brodersen, Doyle lays out some of the play's virtues that appealed to him, but he's largely unable to bring forth a vision of the play that justifies it's place in the season.

Then again, it has that certain Brechtian quality about it that attracts one's eye like a prostitute on a corner. You know you shouldn't look, because certain disappointment looms, but you really can't help yourself. The trappings are too alluring. I mean, Brecht is interesting. It's just rare that he's done in a fully satisfying way- I'm always leaving a performance of his work feeling like I was teased really well, but left unsatisfied.

The cast is effective across the board, most of them performing two roles, with Omoze Idehenre as Grusche, the maid who reluctantly takes a child deserted by its wealthy and selfish mother, and raises it as her own, only to be dragged into a court later on by its mother (Rene Augesen), who wants the child back. However, that's really not the essence of the play's story, which is a parable on responsibility, morality and justice. Brecht instructed the actress playing Grusche to look to Bruegel the Elder's painting "The Maid" as a way to interpret the role. Doyle's staging somewhat captures the chaotic and disorienting feel of the Bruegel painting.

The title refers to a contest at the end to determine who gets the child- it's the most effective scene of the play. Doyle uses a life during wartime setting with ambiguous touches, leaving it the viewer to determine when and where the story is unfolding. It could be World War II, it could be the Caucasus region in the last decade, at times it feels like Tolstoy's Hadji Murad. There are air raid sirens, paper leaflets dropped from the sky, contemporary street clothes and
chain link fences to evoke a sense of estrangement for the audience. Nathaniel Stookey's musical contributions, a bare-bones score reflecting the minimal resources available to the characters, didn't contribute to the dramatic elements in the staging- a missed opportunity which could have made the play more effective.
Regardless. though the first act drags and the second has too many "break the wall" elements, it's an interesting, if not wholly satisfying production.