a peak Off-Broadway experience and they weren’t even in costume….
The Brecht is an exciting add-on at Classic Stage, what they call their “First Look Festival.” They’re doing a series of four readings on Monday nights–with totally professional actors. (What an amazing opportunity to delve deeply into a playwright through these readings! What a cultural contribution!) First was The Caucasian Chalk Circle–I found it fascinating and by the end was deeply moved though I know others who were less affected. The second was In the Jungle of Cities–very early Brecht, very dull, but worth doing “archivally”. The Good Person of Sezuan (traditionally The Good Woman of Sezuan) on October 13th was brilliant–and there’s more to come, Monday October 20th is Life of Galileo.
The Good Person of Sezuan circles around a question: how good can a good person be in our imperfect world? The character whose actions will hold the answer is Shen Te, a prostitute with a golden heart. Thus the playwright thrusts immediately into a paradox from which we keep hoping and even expecting–with breathless dramatic tension–we can escape. We can’t, and though that may not be news, the dramatic realization at the end left the audience near to transfigured.
Tony Kushner’s translation, current and true, helped bring Brecht to vibrant life as did the outstanding cast, headed by Maggie Gyllenhaal who persuasively transformed herself from the pure minded Shen Te to her invented realistic other self, Shui Ta–and back again–with wit and charm. All the actors seemed to have a marvelous time in the stand-up-when-you-have-lines-sit-down-when-you-don’t reading. Even the podiums that held their scripts came in to play, raised delicately for an imminent seduction, banged down when a character left the scene in frustration.
Brecht readings are in addition to Classic Stage’s current main performance of The Tempest with Mandy Patinkin (which was read in their First Look Festival a couple of years ago). The generosity of Off-Broadway theaters is prodigious: How can they do so much at once? where does the stamina come from? the constant creative refreshment? In the face of struggle to exist? The three divinities of Sezuan, who really seemed to hover on substantial Buddhist clouds, should conduct their search for good people among the artistic directors of Off-Broadway theaters–why not start with Brian Kulick of Classic Stage?
The Life of Galileo, at Classic Stage Monday October 20th