BWW Reviews: A MAN'S A MAN Shows a Young, Idealistic Brecht
No, those aren't Kurt Weill melodies you're hearing in Classic Stage Company's new production of Bertolt Brecht's A Man's A Man. That minor-key march and Weimar-style ballad are part of a new score composed by Duncan Sheik to translator Gerhard Nellhaus' lyrics.
But they sound perfectly in period for this abstract anti-war farce penned by a 28-year-old Brecht, who was making his first dive into Berlin's post-war artistic renaissance. In director Brian Kulick's production, A Man's A Man shows all the signs of being an early effort by a spirited and creative youth shouting out an important statement. Attend the theatre often enough and you'll see plenty of such works to admire, but walking in with the knowledge of what the playwright would soon accomplish and what would happen in the country that nurtured his early efforts gives the evening added meaning for contemporary audiences.
A loose series of vignettes played by an ensemble of British soldiers fighting in colonial India ("Anyone who doesn't understand the plot the first time around shouldn't be worried. It's incomprehensible!"), the main action involves the forcible transformation of a nice-guy civilian, Galy Gay (Gibson Frazier), into a blood-lusting fighting machine through the disassembling and reassembling of his personality.
The playwright suggests the setting to be Rudyard Kipling-like, and Kulick gives the piece a fable-like feel. Designer Paul Steinberg's makes the stage a playground full of bright orange oil drums set on wheels, perhaps inspired by a line of dialogue where the soldiers try and determine where they're being sent to fight: "If they need cotton, it'll be Tibet and if they need oil, it'll be Pamir."
The evening works more as an interesting museum piece than the hard-hitting commentary it might have once been, but the fine company - most notably Stephen Spinella as a ruthless sergeant and Justin Vivian Bond as a canteen owner serving the boys in uniform - works admirably.
A curious addition to A Man's A Man is the short one-act, The Elephant Calf; a play within the play which has Galy Gay playing the title character, accused of murdering his mother. It's said that Brecht intended the play to be performed during intermission, perhaps in the lobby, but CSC includes it as a part of the production.