Brecht on Brecht
Directed by Jim Petosa
New Repertory Theatre
Through March 5th
Bertolt Brecht envisioned plays being performed in settings much the way a boxing match is. He felt the audience (crowd) should not become lost in the production but rather stay aware of the fact they are watching a play and to think about what they are witnessing. He believed in the use of harsh lighting that did not hide the audience. He also wanted people to engage in the ideas that were being presented. This method became known as Epic Theatre.
The Black Box Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts is the perfect venue for such a work, and The New Repertory Theatre under the direction of Jim Petosa has given us a wonderful opportunity to see this type of theatre close up, as it should be.
With the audience seated on three sides of the stage and the lights kept up throughout most of the piece, the actors engage the spectators as Brecht preferred to call the audience.
There are four actors all of whom represent some aspect of Bertolt Brecht. They are accompanied by Matthew Stern on piano. The poetry and lyrics are all from Brecht. At times it can be a bit chaotic, sometimes reminiscent of a beatnik coffee house poetry session, a bit madcap, and always engaging. The actors arrive noisily on the black and white stage in a shopping cart and are wearing bright red clown noses. They immediately disrupt things by knocking over music stands and making firm eye contact with the spectators.
The actors, Christine Hamel, Brad Daniel Peloquin, Carla Martinez, and Jake Murphy who are listed in the program as Mature Woman, Mature Man, Young Woman, and Young Man respectively are all very engaging, which is exactly what this work is meant to be.
We hear Brecht’s thoughts on many subjects including the blight of the intellectual under totalitarian regimes (in one case an author was upset his books had not been destroyed), and theatre. The piece on theatre reminded me of Shakespeare’s advice to the players from Hamlet. While the dialog can be provocative, different conclusions can be drawn from it. Brecht wanted his spectators to grapple with the ideas, not just sit and take them in.
A scene where Ms Hamel is making numerous calls to friends in order to explain why she must go away for a while is chilling as we realize she is fleeing the Nazis. The changes in her voice when speaking with different people is very telling. Her comments are quite thought provoking as she reveals her change in status and how it has effected her views of others. Matthew Stern’s use of the piano for sound effects is just right.
Carla Martinez and Jake Murphy bring anger and brashness to the poetry. Again, so much is said that could be taken one way at first glance but when thought about more deeply can be seen in different ways.
Brad Danial Peloquin is just marvelous with his amazing tenor voice. A voice that is not only a joy to hear when he is singing but also when he is engaged in dialog and poetry. He is simply sublime. His rendition of Mack the Knife is certainly not reminiscent of Bobby Darin, and that is meant as a compliment. Mr. Peloquin is superb as he moves about the stage accompanied by Mr. Stern on the piano.
Brecht on Brecht is not easy if you are walking in cold. The music is almost exclusively written in minor keys and can be quite heavy. It is not the type of theatre most people are accustomed to. It is, however, an experience that should be taken in. Director Petosa has assembled a wonderful cast who are fully up to the task of presenting this work the way it should be done. Bridget K. Doyle’s lighting design was spot on (pun intended).
I would suggest spending a short time reading up on Epic Theatre (just Google the term) before going. If you do that you will understand just what a fine work the New Rep is presenting here. It is something special to see and hear. It is also a work that will make you think. Just remember, you are not being preached to, you are being engaged. You are being asked to think, to argue, to participate. This is an evening of very interesting theatre. Do a little preparation and step into the arena.