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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
at Classic Stage Company

A CHILD'S FATE
By MATT WINDMAN

  Jason Babinsky and Christopher Lloyd

The plays of Bertolt Brecht, certainly the most famous and divisive political playwright of the 20th century, are slowing coming back into vogue. Just a few months ago, the Foundry Theatre’s production of The Good Person of Szechwan at LaMaMa proved to be one of the most exciting Brecht revivals in years. (As luck would have it, the Public Theater will bring it back next season.) So it was only a matter of time before The Caucasian Chalk Circle, one of Brecht’s most unusual and difficult works, was tackled.

Written in 1944, this parable of justice and selflessness revolves around Grusha (Elizabeth A. Davis), a poor peasant girl who rescues and takes care of a young boy whose mother, a noblewoman (Mary Testa), forgot about him while fleeing during a military coup. The latter portion of it explores Azdak (Christopher Lloyd), a peasant fond of unorthodox logic who rises to become a judge and, at the play’s climax, must choose whether the child belongs to Grusha or the noblewoman, who wants him back only for legal and financial reasons. 

Last season, Director Brian Kulick proved his ability to handle Brecht’s epic theater aesthetic with Classic Stage’s fine revival of Galileo with F. Murray Abraham. Kulick sets this production at the fall of the Soviet Union (a statue of Lenin is slowly dismantled and eventually replaced by a Coca Cola sign) and uses a gritty, poor theater design scheme.

Kulick made a critical error in removing the play’s outer framework, which involved two communities fighting over farmland. Out of context, the story of Grusha makes less of an impact and comes off as disjointed. Then again, even if the outer context had been retained, the production would probably still feel that way in light of the play’s inherent difficulties, slow pace and didactic tone.

It features strong performances from Davis (a Tony nominee for her performance in the musical Once), the bald-headed, seemingly mad Lloyd (who does double duty, also serving as a narrator) and Testa (who always brims with personality, no matter the play). The young boy is portrayed effectively and rather moving through puppetry. It is further enlivened by Duncan Sheik’s new music, which are set to W.H. Auden’s English translation of Brecht’s original lyrics.  

In one memorable moment, a handful of audience members are recruited to appear onstage as extras for a party scene. How often do you get the opportunity to become part of a Brecht drama? 

 


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