BWW Review: New Rep's Prophetic Portraits Series: BRECHT ON BRECHT
Brecht on Brecht
Written by Bertolt Brecht, Arranged by George Tabori from various translations, Co-produced with Boston Center for American Performance, Directed by Jim Petosa, Musical Direction by Matthew Stern; Scenic Designer, Ryan Bates; Lighting Designer, Bridget K. Doyle; Costume Designer, Alyssa Korol; Stage Manager, Brian M. Robillard
New Repertory Theatre, in conjunction with the Boston Center for American Performance, presents the second in its series of Prophetic Portraits with Brecht on Brecht, a revue arranged by George Tabori of the words and music of Bertolt Brecht. Following last month's production of Thurgood, a one-man show featuring Johnny Lee Davenport in an acclaimed portrayal of our nation's first African American Supreme Court Justice and his civil rights legacy, Brecht on Brecht examines another highly-charged period in 20th century world history. Brecht's art is focused on his experiences in Berlin, his flight from Nazism, and his life as an expatriate in America at a time of political and social upheaval.
For the uninitiated (among which I include myself), Brecht was a playwright, poet, lyricist, and director whose mission was to be provocative, with the desire to spur his audiences to social action. A Marxist and a humanist, he collaborated with composer Kurt Weill to create The Threepenny Opera before leaving Germany in 1933 for Scandinavia, where he wrote many of his major works. In America, Brecht worked in Hollywood and on Broadway, but ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which accused him of writing dangerously revolutionary works. He faced trial and ended up leaving the United States in 1949, ironically returning to Berlin for the rest of his life.
Artistic Director Jim Petosa directs a cast of four, two men and two women, two who are known to New Rep audiences (Christine Hamel and Brad Daniel Peloquin) and two who make their debuts (CarlA Martinez and Jake Murphy) in this production in the Black Box Theater. Musical direction is by Matthew Stern, who is seated onstage at the piano throughout, often playing an underscore in addition to the musical selections. The actors are all accomplished singers, but the songs, limited in number, take a backseat to Brecht's spoken words which are presented in a hyper-theatrical style.
The set (Ryan Bates) consists of a display of large black and white photos on the upstage wall, each of them showing a portion of a famous face, and a few set pieces, including music stands, a coat rack, and a telephone table. Bridget K. Doyle's lighting design effectively changes mood and focus, and Alyssa Korol's costumes define the players as working class, except for Stern, who is dressed in white tie and tails. Petosa has opted to arrange seating on three sides of the stage, bringing most of the audience into an intimate circle with the actors who often ignore the so-called fourth wall. When they speak or sing the playwright's powerful words, it feels as though they are aimed right at us. Like so many shows recently staged in our area, we had better sit up and take notice. This is history that we do not wish to repeat.