The Caucasian Chalk Circle will be showing today, tomorrow and the next day at 7:50 PM, at the University Theater Building.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a complex, multifaceted work of art. The play describes many elements of life. Love, warfare, and justice are just a few examples of its themes. The drama is tumultuous, comedic, and thought provoking.
When asked to describe the play director Don McLaughlin said to think of it as “MTV meets Bertolt Brecht”. As I write this I realize that there is almost no better way to put it. The production is a bridge; a link to something old and mythical and it is presented in such a way that will at least keep the audience highly entertained even if the subtleties are lost.
From start to finish the air of mystery is never quite expelled. In the opening scene a man stands on stage, still and focused. Smoke drifts out before him as the prolog unravels. This man in black is the narrator, the connection the audience has to story in front of them, and his part is one that is reminiscent of another out of ancient Greece. He is dressed much as we might be on any given day, but he is very different.
The narrator is almost like living art. His words are beautiful, an ebb and flow of prose and poetry, that only seem to know truth as it were, naked and unafraid. He leads us slowly into a world we don’t know and yet live in every day.
We are brought to Russia, “In olden times, in a bloody time”, circa 1700. The conversation of the players is not unlike the politics Tolstoy’s War and Peace describes. And as one can easily imagine war does ensue early on in the play. The battle portrayed is more like modern dance then violence. The actors sway hypnotically in simulated slow motion, increasing the drama and horror. The violin sings a macabre song. Red lights spill across the stage like blood.
As the legend unfolds it is impossible to ignore the intricacy of setting. A ramp runs through the audience, and parts of the stage move of there own accord. Lights flash, rotate, and shift color almost ever scene. One is reminded of rock’ n’ roll shows by the 160 colored lights, and 10 moving beam lights.
All of the music for the play is original. Ian Williams, a student at EWU composed it for this play. An electric bass, electric guitar, violin, and trap drum set all aid the mood of the play. The guitar carries a modern tone and the violin draws notes that seem to drift from old Russia itself. The effect jives with rest of the eclectic vibes being given off by the play.
The old and new worlds come together in an effective blend of well-arranged words and technology. The 1940s script written by the German socialist is timeless enough to draw a young audience into it, as well; it entertains the deep thinker with its archetypical layering of symbols. McLaughlin’s innovative set design flows with the mood of the piece and accentuates its drama. His use of lighting and an over the audience ramp aid in pulling the viewer inside.
Brecht’s play works on our innermost fears. Dark, faceless villains that are ruthless and cruel carried out the war. Fear of discovery and death circle the protagonist as she flees from her decimated home. Lost and unrequited love are other problems faced by the just lead character. Being exiled from his homeland probably gave Brecht more then enough fuel for these fires.
The play enlivens a strong anti-war sentiment, which again aids in its ability to be generalized to different times and peoples. Some of the rulers are monstrous, the soldiers are barbarians and the people suffer. The actors did an excellent job.
Kelly Cliber is one of the leads of the play. Her role is that of Grusha, a young woman caring for a babe in a time of violence and struggle. She carries the plight out very well, making us believe in her, and for just a moment she looked the Madonna, carrying out her struggle with her blessed, yet damned child. Her singing voice is full and passionate. Her performance is very strong and this is only her first year.
The player who portrayed the comedic and wise Azdak did not ever break character and delivered humor with fine timing. Leif Jenssen performed slapstick, and mixed in jokes and morality elegantly. He convinced me he was old and pickled with philosophy.
The Fat Prince [Tim Linfor] was sinister; the Corporal soldier [Mark Peterson] was menacing and evil. All the cast played and sounded their parts well.
When the play opened it was a drama and when it closed it was a comedy. The range of events it described were vast and complete. “Brecht spared us no words,” said McLaughlin. It is a long play, about three hours, but it is worth every minute of your time.
I am a sucker for allegorical art, and this play made me feel like I was at a gallery full of paintings. Then end came and the meaning of the play was taken from out behind its veil of for all to see, naked and raw, like a newborn babe.