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BWW Reviews: BRECHT ON BRECHT Reminds Us That When the World was Silent, Brecht Spoke

It is often said that those who never study history are doomed to repeat it. To that I answer, those who have never studied the prolific playwright, poet, lyricist, screenwriter, and theatre director Bertolt Brecht will never understand how his extraordinary output, incisive wit, powers of observation of the human condition and political consciousness have influenced makers of theatre, film and pop culture ever since.

Brecht knew that you cannot bury your head in the sand to avoid problems, and that most people are terribly busy preparing for their next mistake. So as an educated man, he chose to speak up for the common man who lacked a voice heard by the authorities, allowing him to be popularly identified as a champion of the workers and oppressed people.

After fleeing his native Germany, Brecht spent six years residing in Santa Monica during which time he met many of the Hollywood elite who were suspected of being in the Communist Party although never a member himself. Incorporated into BRECHT ON BRECHT are portions of his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), one day before his exit from the United States. He is toying with them, even if he ultimately feels compelled to somewhat cooperate with them. He returned to his native Germany, where he directed the Berliner Ensemble until his death in Berlin at age 58.

Directed with a keen vision by Alistair Hunter and featuring talented actors Gil Hagen-Hill, Daniel Houston-Davila, BeLinda Howell, Susan Kussman, and Gregg Lawrence, whose faces display every human emotion possible, changing from one to the other in a split second, we are taken on an extraordinary journey via a multimedia revue focusing on the work of the youthful Brecht, featuring poems, songs and excerpts from some of his greatest plays, including "Fears and Mysteries of the Third Reich," "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," and "The Threepenny Opera" (from which the pop standard "Mack The Knife" is derived).

The magnificently performed Kurt Weill and Brecht "The Alabama Song" (written about a place neither had ever visited) speaks directly to the universal search for something to make life better. Many thanks for including all the original lyrics, deleted from later recordings by The Doors and David Bowie. I do wonder what Brecht and Weill would say about the lyric 'Show me the way to the next whisky bar' being written on the wall of the men's restroom in the TV show "Cheers."

There are so many moments in the play that deserve much praise, especially the extraordinary performances of Susan Kussman and Gregg Lawrence in "The Jewish Wife." Brecht left Germany in 1933 when Hitler took power and this heart-wrenching scene speaks directly to his hatred of the man and his politics. Kussman takes us along as she packs for a journey of indeterminate length to a place where she knows no one, nervously places calls to people she hopes will help her husband after she leaves (and whose numbers she then burns), all the while knowing she will never be back. As she practices how to say good-bye to her husband, Kussman's wide-eyed stare will pull you into the depths of the overwhelming fear in her soul.

Gregg Lawrence brilliantly portrays the husband as though his head is in the sand, trying to lighten his wife's mood by not acknowledging the seriousness of the problem which will tear them apart permanently. Yet the last thing he does for her lets us know he is fully aware she will never return and that perhaps, this is the best solution for the problem anyway. The scene sent shivers down my spine as the audience gasped in unison.

BRECHT ON BRECHT was first produced off-Broadway in 1961 and in the decades since, has lost none of its relevancy. It still has potent statements to make to a new generation coping with a world in turmoil. Presented at times with words and actions to elicit our sympathy for the plight of characters who have to make choices in impossible situations, Brecht wants audience members to leave the theater knowing they have control over their lives and can take action to make change. Hopefully now is the time for all of us to speak up as Brecht did and take action in whatever ways we can to turn things around and make the world into the place we all believe it should be.

This is thought-provoking theater at its best.

BRECHT ON BRECHT A theatrical entertainment based on the writings of Bertolt Brecht, conceived by George Tabori from various translations. Arranged and directed by Alistair Hunter with musical director Gayle Bluemel. Presented by The Other Theatre Company, produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

At the Atwater Playhouse, 3191 Casitas Ave. #100, Los Angeles, CA 90039. FREE parking lot. Runs through Sunday, June 9 on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Dark on May 12, 24, 25, 26. ADMISSION: $25. Students and seniors, $18. RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-1054. ONLINE TICKETING:

Gil Hagen-Hill, Gregg Lawrence and Daniel Houston-Davila.

Photo credit: BeLinda Howell

Gil Hagen-Hill, BeLinda Howell.

Photo Credit: Allan Rabionowitz.

Gregg Lawrence (l.), Susan Kussman, BeLinda Howell Daniel Houston-Davila.

Photo Credit: Allan Rabinowitz.

Gil Hagen-Hill, Gregg Lawrence, Susan Kussman, Daniel Houston-Davila.

Photo Credit: Alistair Hunter.

Susan Kussman, Daniel Houston-Davila

Photo credit: BeLinda Howell

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