Review - The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Director Brian Kulick sets Classic Stage Company's interesting and spirited new production of Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle during the fall of the Soviet Union, "when the hammer and sickle were replaced by the Coca-Cola bottle." The production's Playbill cover depicts a satisfied looking Christopher Lloyd scribbling over that iconic communist emblem with a piece of chalk. This is certainly an unusual take for a play that, when it premiered in 1948, was intended to depict the fairness to be found in Soviet leadership.

James and Tania Stern's translation cuts the prologue where two Soviet communes dispute over land left abandoned by the Nazis, prompting the telling of a parable that leads to a resolution. Instead, the folk tale is told by a seven-member troupe of players, led by "The Singer" (Lloyd, who is the only one not singing as they perform their opening song), who climax their introduction by pulling down a statue of Lenin.

That statue is meant to represent deposed Governor Georgi Abashvili, whose wife (hilariously self-involved Mary Testa) flees so quickly from her home that she neglects to bring along her infant son, Michael. The boy is taken by Abashvili's maid, Grusha (a nobly endearing Elizabeth A. Davis) who protects him from revolutionaries who would want him dead and raises him as her own.

Lloyd's eccentric charm is put to good use in the second act, where he portrays Azdak, a crafty wanderer of questionable morals who, in the post-overthrow days of confusion, becomes the judge presiding over the case when the former governor's wife wishes to reclaim her son. The play gets its title from the Solomon-like way Azdak determines who is the rightful mother.

Since Brecht was a firm believer in calling the audience's attention to the fact that they are in a theatre watching a play, there are scripted power outages to deal with, references to specific customers and a moment where volunteers are asked for to help populate a scene.

Duncan Sheik has written new melodies of the folk-protest variety to the translation's lyrics by W.H. Auden. Testa's powerful belting supplies traditional patriotic dramatics while Davis' more contemporary stylings reflect western pop culture influence. More western influence is depicted as the propaganda slogans posted on Tony Straiges' set give way to soda and cigarette advertising.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Alex Hurt, Christopher Lloyd and Deb Radloff; Bottom: Elizabeth A. Davis, Mary Testa and Deb Radloff

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"It is best to act with confidence, no matter how little right you have to it."
-- Lillian Hellman

The grosses are out for the week ending 6/2/2013 and we've got them all right here in's grosses section.

Up for the week was: THE BIG KNIFE(6.2%),

Down for the week was: ANNIE (-17.7%), CHICAGO (-17.1%), CINDERELLA (-17.1%), NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT (-14.3%), ROCK OF AGES (-11.0%), ONCE (-10.0%), THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (-9.3%), SPIDER-MAN TURN OFF THE DARK (-9.1%), THE NANCE (-9.1%), JERSEY BOYS (-9.0%), MAMMA MIA! (-8.7%), MACBETH (-8.6%), ANN (-7.9%), THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES (-7.8%), VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE (-7.7%), I'LL EAT YOU LAST: A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS (-6.8%), PIPPIN (-4.6%), WICKED (-3.3%), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (-2.7%), NEWSIES (-2.2%), LUCKY GUY (-0.7%), KINKY BOOTS (-0.4%), THE LION KING (-0.4%), MOTOWN: THE MUSICAL (-0.1%),


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