BWW Review: A Winning Production - THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE - The Latest on Antaeus' Hearty Resumé
Director Stephanie Shroyer's innovative staging and updating of Bertolt Brecht's 1944 THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE (using the translation of Alistair Beaton) features a solid ensemble using old-time, theatre magic to fascinate the audience with its tales of World War II tragedies.
While waiting in the Antaeus theatre lobby, the actors mingle amongst the theatregoers, eventually performing a welcomed preamble of what is to come on the stage. The issue of government involvement in individual farmers' crop production gets tossed out for debate. Isn't it better to accept government support and become competitive in producing the best crops, rather than working separately on their own? Then we're escorted into the theatre where the performers warm-up before the house lights to dim.
The palace of sitting Governor has become under attack, led by his mutinous palace guards. The Governor's captured and beheaded, leaving his wife and baby son to flee for their own safety. In the haste and confusion of packing up all her luxurious clothes, the tunnel-vision governor's wife flees leaving her baby behind.
The governor's wife's maid Grusha views the abandoned baby and deliberates whether to leave him behind or take him along with her. The majority of the first act smartly focuses on Grusha's escape from the trailing Ironshirts.
Liza Seneca imbues her role of Grusha with much heart, sincerity and gumption standing up to all the obstacles (human and natural) along the way to her and baby Mykal's safety.
Gabriela Bonet shines as the inner voice of Mykal with vocals of an angel, as well as, and the sensitive puppeteer of the cloth doll (standing in for Mykal). Bonet, as many others, play a number of roles each. Bonet well utilizes her comic sass and timing in the variety of her other supporting roles.
Troy Guthrie totally inhabits two unsympathetic characters in situations with Grusha - the despicable, sexual assaulting Ironshirt Sergeant and the chauvinistic Jussup, who fakes his death to avoid being drafted into the war.
Connor Kelly-Eiding shows her wide acting range first as the naive Farmer's Wife Grusha initially leaves Mykal with; the Fat Prince's wet-behind-the-ears nephew; then the sensibly effective hard-nose co-counsel to Noel Arthur's showboating lawyer. Arthur also brings much life and attitude to The Fat Prince who led the takeover of the Palace.
Paul Baird has fun with his roles as the humiliated Governor, the shocked farmer whose doorstep Mykal was left on, and others.
Claudia Elmore's soooo spot-on, dramatically over-the-top as the pampered Governor's Wife , and sooo demanding as Aniko to her henpecked husband Lavrenti, Grusha's brother. Alex Knox's dead-on as Lavrenti, as in his other multiple roles.
Michael Khachanov's perfectly sweet and wide-eyed as Simon, the soldier enraptured with Grusha, as he flirts with Grusha and proposes before going off to war to guard the Governor's Wife.
Steve Hofvendahl drives much of the first act as its cool and calm narrator, but becomes a forceful integral part of the second act as the bribe-taking judge Azdak who presides over who gets custody of Mykal - Grusha or the Governor's Wife.
Others in this gifted ensemble, in multiple vital roles, include John Apicella as non-speaking, grunting Grand Duke on the run; Turner Frankosky as Ironshirt Shauva, nicknamed "Dickhead" by his brow-beating Sergeant (Frankosky also plays a mean violin!); Mehrnaz Mohammadi's regal as Noble Woman and others; Madalina Nastase's ageless as Old Woman and Young Woman; Janellen Steininger's a spark plug as the Cook and Noble Lady; George Villas' authoritive as the Governor's attendant Shalva, and a nice drunk as Monk.
The stage magic I alluded to in the beginning - two rows of actors lying on their sides, head-to-others-feet symbolize the river banks Grusha's washing her clothes in. The actors make bubble sounds and jiggle their hands in sync to represent the easy ripples of the river. So nice! With much talk/warning of a weak bridge Grusha needs to cross and does, lighting designer Ken Booth spotlights Seneca as she's carried upright across the stage/the bridge by a teams of actors in the dark. Very nice!
Although costume designer Angela Calin's Russian costumes are appropriately World War II period, the language and the issues with corrupt justice certainly fit in the twentieth/twentieth-first century. Scenic designer Frederica Nascimento keeps the stage walls bare, using moving doorframes and set pieces for smooth scene transitions.
Sound designer Jeff Gardner effectively maintains the sound keeping the actors' voices clear and intelligible.