“…exactly what ensemble performance should be”

Patty Nolan at The Detroit Examiner came to see The Caucasian Chalk Circle this weekend… and loved it.  Here’s what she had to say:

The Caucasian Chalk Circle ensemble (photo credit Bobby Lima)

The Bonstelle gives us a production of Brecht that’s easy to love.

Patty Nolan

Detroit Theater Examiner

“WSU’s Bonstelle Theatre has never shied away from challenging, demanding work, so we were delighted, rather than surprised, to see that their season opener would be a Bertolt Brecht play.  As the tough economy forces more theatres to serve up a strict diet of proven crowd pleasers, we applaud those who still carry the torch for important work and essential playwrights.

In a recent preview on this site, we commented on the nature of this play – The Caucasian Chalk Circle – and how it is a morality play and socio-political commentary in the best Brecht style.

Now that we’ve seen this production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, we can recommend it.  This is an ensemble production in which the large cast (35 members) serves as chorus – in the Greek sense as well as the modern sense – by telling the story via song.  Except for the principal players, everyone in the cast plays multiple parts, which adds to the audience’s fun as the peasants become soldiers become live musicians become children become old men … you get the idea.

Sienna Hassett, as Grusha, brings a frankness and simplicity to her role as the peasant heroine – resisting the temptation to play to audience sympathies. (Brecht eschewed sentimentality.)  Patrick Loos, as Azdak, is the most nuanced character in the show and is brilliant as the cunning scoundrel whose native intellect is more than a match for his social superiors.

A key figure in telling of the story is ‘The Singer’ – brought to life through Cal M. Schwartz – who brings a striking voice and broad vocal range to the somewhat daunting Mark Nichols score.  He is supported by ‘peasant’ musicians who play charming folk music – and under the direction of George Abud actual ly add sound design to heighten the texture of the storytelling.

Another surprise is a lovely ballet that appears in the middle of the play and serves as a visual ‘thought bubble’ – illustrating the emotional dimension of a ballad sung by a woman to her lover going off to war.

This production is satisfying on many levels.  It’s a no-brainer for Bertolt Brecht fans, and a safe bet for anyone who is curious about Brecht but intimidated by his reputation for dreary endings.

Congratulations to the entire Bonstelle company.”

You can find the original article here.


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