Review: 'Caucasian Chalk Circle' jabs at injustice

NEW YORK (AP) — The oblivious entitlement of the elite is a cherished target for caricature. German dramatist Bertolt Brecht harpooned the arrogance of the privileged class ("well-born stinkers") in "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," his 1944 absurdist tale of exile, social inequality and misguided justice.

A well-sung, well-acted and generally entertaining production opened Thursday night at Classic Stage Company, starring Christopher Lloyd as a roguish judge and featuring a strong comedic presence by Mary Testa. The allegoric musical includes folk-tinged original music by Tony Award-winner Duncan Sheik ("Spring Awakening"), with thoughtful lyrics by W. H. Auden.

Brecht, whose classic works include "The Threepenny Opera," co-written with Kurt Weil, and "Mother Courage and Her Children," wrote the play while in exile himself in America. He combined contemporaneous political issues with elements from a Chinese parable and the story of the judgment of Solomon, in which two women claim the same child.

CSC artistic director Brian Kulick has colorfully staged his slightly uneven but energetic interpretation of the play-within-a-play. A troupe of exiles recites and dramatizes the story, comically interrupted by the occasional electrical blackout. Their ever-present suitcases serve as props, furniture and even stepping-stones, a whimsical yet symbolic touch that provides a continuous reminder of displacement and uncertainty.

A young peasant maid called Grusha, (a lovely, intense portrayal, richly sung by Elizabeth A. Davis), rescues the forgotten infant of her selfish ruling-class employer, Natella (Testa, delightfully haughty and petulant), during a murderous civil war. Adding to the general air of disorder and broken hopes, a statue that resembles Lenin is toppled and remains crumbled in the background for most of the play.

Grusha then undergoes a perilous journey to evade vicious soldiers, becoming a loving mother during a few difficult, impoverished years in exile. When Natella demands the child back for the wealth he's to inherit, the women must battle for him in court.

Five players credibly perform multiple roles, some comedic and some serious. Tom Riis Farrell brings a robustly clownish enthusiasm to his characters, at one point amiably urging the audience to join in a couple of activities to "help make Bertolt Brecht proud."

Lloyd provides effective narration and gravitas as The Singer in the first act, then turns irascible and loud throughout Act 2 as Azdak, the vulgar, ranting, drunken judge. Lloyd is perfectly cast as this seeming madman, who risks his life to make judgments that help the poor. Mugging incessantly and stalking around in grimy rags, Lloyd broadly enacts Azdak's eloquent craziness in a series of satirical courtroom scenes.

Alex Hurt is charmingly sincere as Grusha's soldier-suitor, Simon, especially in their sweetly awkward courtship scenes. Jason Babinsky holds his own as a lawyer who gamely tries to outwit the unpredictable judge. Deb Radloff rounds out the cast in various roles that include a bitchy sister-in-law and a sexy peasant temptress.

Brecht's socialist message was that productivity of the workers should trump wealth and privilege, and resources should be shared by those who will do the most with them. In the finale, the chorus broodily sings, "Let all things go to those/Whose abilities may suit/The valley to the waterers/That it shall bear fruit."

___

Online:

http://www.classicstage.org

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • United States seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot
    United States seeks access to Philippine bases as part of Asia pivot

    The United States has asked for access to Philippine military bases in eight locations to rotate troops, aircraft, and ships as Washington shifts its forces to Asia and as China expands its military presence in the South China Sea. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a speech in Arizona, has outlined Washington's next phase in its Asia "pivot", deploying its most sophisticated destroyers, bombers and fighters to the region. The Asia "pivot" has already seen U.S. Marines rotating through the …

  • China's island-building to loom large at SE Asia summit
    China's island-building to loom large at SE Asia summit

    China's creation of new island footholds in contested seas will hover over a Southeast Asian summit that has become an annual test of the region's nerve in standing up to its massive neighbour. The South China Sea hot potato drops this year into Malaysia's lap as the rotating chair of the 10 member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and host of Monday's meeting. ASEAN states Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the strategic South China Sea, but Beijing …

  • Philippines, China trade accusations over sea threats

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines accused China of aggressive maneuvers against its reconnaissance plane and fishermen in disputed seas where Beijing has stepped up construction of artificial islands, but China reiterated its claim on the strategic waterways. …

  • Indonesia orders execution of Mary Jane, 9 others
    Indonesia orders execution of Mary Jane, 9 others

    Indonesia has ordered preparations for the execution of 10 drug convicts, including Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, as the Philippine government filed yesterday a second appeal for judicial review of the case to save the maid from death by firing squad. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) of Indonesia released an official letter dated April 23, instructing prosecutors to prepare for the execution of 10 convicts, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday. The execution would be conducted after the …

  • Noy to visit Canada, Japan
    Noy to visit Canada, Japan

    President Aquino will embark on a state visit to Canada in May and Japan in June to meet with his counterparts and promote Philippine interests. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Aquino accepted the invitation from Canadian Governor General David Johnston to make a state visit to Canada from May 7 to 9. Tied to this trip is the President’s one-day working visit to the United States to meet with potential investors and with the local Filipino community in Chicago, Valte …

  • Business groups back K to 12 program
    Business groups back K to 12 program

    The government’s K to 12 program adding two more years to basic education received support from various business groups yesterday. However, they urged relevant government agencies to deal with issues regarding the implementation of Republic Act 10533, the Enhanced Basic Education Act or K-12 Law. In a statement, business groups led by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) said RA 10533 is a milestone piece of legislation that intends to bring the Philippines up to par with the rest of …

  • Happiest nations: Phl ranks 90th
    Happiest nations: Phl ranks 90th

    Switzerland is the happiest country in the world, while the Philippines placed 90th, according to a global ranking of happiness unveiled in New York on Thursday. Switzerland was followed closely by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada. The 2015 World Happiness Report is the third annual report seeking to quantify happiness as a means of influencing government policy. The United Nations published the first study in 2012. …

  • Asean leaders want binding sea code with China
    Asean leaders want binding sea code with China

    Southeast Asian leaders will seek to speed up plans for a binding code of conduct with China governing behavior in the disputed South China Sea at a summit next week, Malaysia’s foreign minister said Friday. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said a massive flow of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to neighboring countries will also be discussed at the two-day summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which starts Monday. Anifah said leaders are expected to raise concerns …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options