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DRAMA: Modernism to Post-Modernism

Epic Theatre


Brecht, the Epic Theater was supposed to instruct its audience, therefore he also called it the 'Instructive Theater'. Brecht hated Realism and intended his works to teach his audience about a certain topic and to inspire them to change the world in some way. He 'alienated' his audiences by emotionally detaching them from the play's characters in order to relay his messages more fluently.

Oil, inflation, social struggles, war, the family, religion, wheat, the meat market, all became subjects for theatrical representation. Choruses enlightened the spectator about facts unknown to him. Films showed a montage of events from all over the world. Projections added statistical material. And as the "background" came to the front of the stage, so people's activity was subjected to criticism. Right and wrong courses of action were shown. People were shown who knew what they were doing, and others who did not. The theater became an affair for philosophers, but only for such philosophers as wished not just to explain the world, but also to change it. So we had philosophy and we had instruction

The Brechtian play that was studied in class was "The Causasian Chalk Circle". The play is about how war and greed separate people from what is truly theirs - from values that they must have in order to survive and avoid another war. Brecht completed the play in the U.S. in 1944, after fleeing both personal and political disasters in Europe. The loss of family and desire for love weighed heavily on his mind and inspired his work.



Arkadina, the Singer, is played perfectly by Erin Neill. She is a beautiful Gypsy, the living image of Brecht's storyteller/heroine. She narrates and takes part in the action of the story. As storyteller, Arkadina is not "objective," she is highly invested in what happens, with pleas both to the characters, and to the audience.

The ensemble of villagers that we see at the beginning of the tale changes costumes to play the various characters of the story. The ensemble is the backbone of the play, the element that makes it successful. The show relies on the voices and movement of the whole cast, rather than pyrotechnics. The technical and design aspects do a good job of solidly serving the play without taking attention from the story.

Christine Barley is extremely strong as Grusha, the kitchen maid who finds the baby heir deserted by its aristocratic mother. She is small and her movements are strategically frail, but her voice is strong enough to challenge anyone who stands in her way. We sympathize with her seeming helplessness, while being humbled into respect for her strength in refusing to give up to the law and those afraid to help.

David Long is brilliant as the populist judge, Azdak. His character explores the ambivalence of having ideals while trying to stay alive. Azdak's heroism comes more from his awareness of his human imperfection as a minister of justice than from any heroic deed.

"Terrible is the temptation to do good," Arkadina and the chorus chant when Grusha finds the abandoned baby. Her better human instincts make her blind to the trouble she creates for herself in protecting a child through a war. Throughout the story there are those who follow these better instincts and are treated as sinners by those who are afraid. Even the rich who spend their time insulating themselves from the world's problems are implicated. Everyone must make a choice.

The audience is a little more involved in the story and meaning of the play than they would probably like to be. Bloodied refugees run through the audience and characters' pleas are made to the audiences' faces.

The play does not provide escape, or catharsis - Brecht believed that theater was not supposed to distract people from social problems but to involve them. It provides a little bit of clarity, a reality check, a sense of how ridiculous the world is and why.

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Jessica Lane,
Modern Drama B Assignment