Brecht’s often overwhelming epic made simpler -- and more harmonious.
BY ELLEN WERNECKE
Even Brecht admirers might have some trouble with “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” his sprawling, Asian-inspired war play, punctuated by musings on social mores and the abuse of trust in a nation. Hipgnosis eliminates Brecht’s original frame (in which a group of peasants are hearing the story from the Singer) and gives some clarity to the work, although its asides on power and the way people act during war time often overwhelm the narrative.
As narrated by the Singer (Demetrios Bonaros, who also wrote all the music in this staging), a poverty-stricken nation is racked by a coup which puts the Fat Prince (John Castro) in power but leads to a civil war in which civilians are pitted against the Ironshirts (national guard). When the deposed governor’s wife (Ayanna Siverls) flees the town without bothering to pick her baby up off the ground where she left it, the heir to the throne, he is rescued by a palace maid named Grusha (Rachel Tiemann) who makes the treacherous journey north to her brother’s house for shelter. While she waits to be reunited with the soldier she promised herself to (Douglas Scott Streater), Grusha becomes more and more consumed with the baby’s survival, even though Ironshirts are one step behind her and hunting for the royal heir.
Bonaros’ music, performed a cappella alone or with other actors, assist in knitting together what can seem like many disparate scenes. They also contribute to the folk-tale mystique of the piece, which seems to take place outside of any recognized culture or civilization but bears the marks of many. (“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” inspired Charles Mee’s play “Full Circle,” in which he placed the action in 1989 Berlin amidst the falling of the Wall.) The foolhardy postwar declaration of “Now everything will be as it was!” is, of course, a farce, but the journey of Grusha from unwilling participant in the rebellion to her conception of herself as the baby’s true mother holds the ensemble together, particularly with the tenacious performance of Tiemann. Her undoubtedly exhausting journey gives, as a judge says late in the show, “proof of human feeling” out of the morass.
Through May 11 at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker
Tickets $19, Telecharge.
For more information, visit Hipgnosis Theatre.org.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.