The Caucasian Chalk Circle

The Wayne State University Theatre Department opens its 59th season at the Historic Bonstelle Theatre with Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is an extremely politically charged piece of theatre which director, Jesse Merz believes relates to America today, “Chalk Circle ultimately asks questions about how resources are used for the common good of society. What is our social responsibility to humanity in times of crisis?”

Bertolt Brecht was born in Germany during Germany’s Second Reich and become a Marxist in the 1920’s. He felt that theatre should be used as a forum for political ideas. Brecht was one of Germany’s most respected and prolific artists of the period leading up to the Third Reich. During this period Brecht’s many successes included The Three Penny Opera, with music by Kurt Weil. However, fearing persecution by the Nazis, Brecht fled Germany in 1933 and arrived in America in 1941.

For The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht borrows from an ancient Chinese story echoed in the biblical story of the judgment of King Solomon, in which two women both claim the same child. Brecht’s tale also includes a parable of a land dispute between two communes of people, the fruit growers and the goat farmers. In the end the land is awarded to the group which is believed to be able to do the most good.

Wayne State University Theatre alumnus, Phyllis Somerville performed the role of Grusha as a member of the very first Hilberry Company in 1965. Ms. Somerville has worked consistently on Broadway, in television and film since leaving Wayne State. She was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for her role as Grandma Fuller in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

1965 production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle

“When I was younger, before coming to Wayne State, I saw The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Guthrie Theatre and I fell in love with the show. I knew then that I wanted to perform Brecht’s work. When I came to the Hilberry Leonard Leone cast me as Grusha in that production. I was thrilled!” said Somerville. Ms. Somerville is pleased that Wayne State continues its tradition of presenting excellent theatre to the community. “Brecht is important and this play is important. It speaks of social justice and the needs of humanity as a whole. It is as relevant today as it was when we first performed it at the Hilberry.” added Somerville.

According to Merz, “Brecht was against sentimentality, he wanted theatre to make you think, not just leave with an emotional catharsis.” In the Bonstelle production the audience will be keenly aware that they are in a theatre in Detroit in 2010. The production will expose the bare walls of the theatre so the audience will not forget where they are. “Brecht was all about breaking rules and so are we,” stated Merz.

The cast includes
Sienna Hassett (Grosse Pointe Park, MI) as Grusha, Patrick Loos (Highland, MI) as Azdak, the Judge, Colin Mallory (East Lansing, MI) as Governor Georgi Abashvili, Kerianne Fergurson (Detroit, MI) as Natella, Dave Cowan (Detroit, MI) as Simon, Cal M. Schwartz (Dearborn, MI) as The Singer, Andrick Siegmund (Ferndale, MI ) as Lavrenti, Alexander Trice (Oxfordshire, UK), as Yussup, Derrell Jones (Detroit, MI), as Arsen Kazbecki, Celeste Shropshire (Detroit, MI) as The Sister-in-law, Jacquie Michnuk (Dearborn, MI) as The Expert, Kelli Sarakun (Grosse Pointe Park, MI) as The Mother-in-law, and Steve Carson (Grosse Pointe, MI) as The First Ironshirt.

The cast is accentuated by a large ensemble, consisting of Alyssa Lucas (Garden City, MI), Annabelle Young (Dearborn, MI), Anthony Scamihorn (Marshall, MI), Britta Peele (Harrison Twp.), Caitlin Morrison (Romeo, MI), Jackson McLaskey (Mount Clemens, MI), Joanne Nelson (Detroit, MI), Kara Frizzell (Garden City, MI), Kelsey Lusch (Clinton Twp., MI), Billy Dean (Wyandotte, MI), Taurean Hogan (Detroit, MI), Mackenzie Conn (Walled Lake, MI), Matthew Kurtz (Detroit, MI), Megan Fuller (Warren, MI), Nancy Florkowski (Redford, MI), Sarah Kline (Royal Oak, MI), Sharayah Johnson (Birch Run, MI), William Turbett (Dearborn, MI), and Yasmeen Mikhail (Wyandotte, MI), George Abud (Grosse Pointe, MI), and Robbie Dwight (Detroit, MI).

The creative team includes
Jesse Merz (Director), Mark Nichols (Composer), Becky Garcia (Production Stage Manager), Caitlin Morrison (Choreographer), George Abud (Musical Director), Fred Florkowski (Scenic Designer and Technical Director), Mary Copenhagen (Costume Designer), Donald Fox (Lighting Designer), Michael Thomas (Sound Designer), Anthony Karpinski (Properties Master) and Nikki Allen (Production Publicity Manager).

The Wayne State box office is open Tuesday – Saturday from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m., at the Hilberry Theatre. Tickets may be purchased at the door at the Bonstelle Theatre (3434 Woodward Ave.) one hour prior to performances. Regular tickets are available for $15, and $12 discounted tickets are available to seniors ages 62+ and Wayne State University faculty, staff, and Alumni Association members. Group discounts are also available. For more information, please visit the theatre’s website at www.bonstelle.com.

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