THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE IS A TALE OF LOVE AND HOPE THAT FEATURES A TERRIFIC UCB CAST
UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach playhouse is transformed in Brecht’s world vision of his 75 year old THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE. TDPS fall production is now on stage only through November 24th on the Zellerbach stage. The German playwright Berthold Brecht wrote this parable play in 1944 based on a 14th-century Chinese play and in a new translation by Alistair Beaton. Directed by Christine Nicholson who says in CHALK CIRCLE Brecht asks if it is possible to have fairness and justice in an imperfect world. “By setting this story in an imagined place and time and through the use of The Alienation Effect, or distracting the audience would be able to consciously take stock of the nature of their contemporary existence” says Nicholson.
The diverse cast features 20 UCB actors playing more than 50 roles. The setting is a play-within-a-play staged in the round with plenty of room for the cast who run sometimes at full clip. Two conflicting groups of peasants compete for farm land: the Collective Fruit Farm Galinsk and the Collective Goat Farmers. A traveling singer Michelle Tang performs with the live on stage band featuring Ryan Huber composer of original music created for this production.
A small group of locals arrive and agree to help settle the dispute by acting out a folk tale of peasants reacting to ungracious nobles. A play in three acts, this two hour classic features a busy colorful cast. The set is an immersive open design with a community pit the company uses to tell this story. Brecht’s post modern world is designed by Annie Smart who made sure to include the subtext rich carpets and plenty of open space for the 20 actors to scamper in and out including using the sets second levels.
Set in the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, a revolution has executed the governor of the province, and his snotty/snobby wife played by the superb Amalia Sgoumpopoulou abandons their infant son while hastily packing her rich belongings. Their servant Grusha played by the absorbing Christina Nguyen, purely out of concern for the child’s safety, absconds with the baby as soldiers invade the governor’s home. Grusha is unofficially engaged to a kindly soldier Simon played by the authentic Hyung Shim. Simon saves the child and has a difficult time keeping him as well as Grusha’s virginity from other praying soldiers. The young boy Michael is performed by puppeteer Diana Alvarado and designed by the clever Glynn Bartlett the boy becomes very real to this company.
Brecht wrote this parable while in voluntary exile in the United States, drawing criticism from conservative politicians for “un-American” plays. But this work has been widely performed since and admired for some essential truths about ideology and justice. Grusha is careful to conceal Michael’s true identity. But she soon learns that the baby was not abandoned. The Governor's wife wants her son found even though revealing his identity could doom Michael to a brutal fate that threatens his life. While the Abashwili’s and her soldiers root out the child’s whereabouts, Grusha grows as survivor, mother and protector for the boy.
Director Nicholson has staged a difficult play with ease using this UC theatre dept talented cast, with notable assistant director, Gaby Ostrove. They both not only underplay the peasant vs noble theme, but finds the humanity behind the horrors of war and politics, including invented music by Huber to the song lyrics of Brecht script and text. The music is well-played by some of the cast with an expanding band that moves the fairy tale into some dark emotions. Emily Fassler’s sound cues of burning wars and rain drip moods, guns firing, and bombs dropping do more to suggest the worlds end and harsh choices that await the sons and daughters of war.
The ensemble, does extraordinarily well; most of the cast playing multiple roles. Especially good are Francois Lamaitre as Judge Azsak, the compelling Haley Rome and James Perkins as a lawyer and soldiers. Also the keen Laura Hay as a grumpy old man and Noah Weinstein as the Innkeeper. But the show stopper was the terrific Xun Zhang as the elegant Governor and later the farmer Jessup who steals the second act while struggling in a bathtub. The company also includes the impressive Lea Akima, Anina Baker, Abril Centurion, Andre Gutierrez, Sawyer Henderson, Edward Langley, Fleurette Modica, and the ideal Lhasa Summers.
Set designer Smart, also designed the costumes that blend into her set. The persian rugs pushing the colors of the company’s believable worlds end. The rugged soldier uniforms, and the hats are scene stealers including the Governor's military fanfare keep us firmly grounded in time and place. The light design by Jack Carpenter is moody and perfect for this in the round setting including his fire effect. Stage managers Kellyann Ye and Randall Belyea keep this busy 20 member cast on cue. Sound designer Fassler creates an apocalyptic world of Brecht’s vision that fills the Zellerbach Playhouse. As Grusha and the Mom register strong impressions, playing opposite poles of motherly kindness the fairy tale ends and brings both plays featuring love and hope. Next up at TDPS is Fall Dance Showcase Dec 12th, and the spring play THE ARSONISTS that opens March 12th. But in the meantime start your Holiday theatre season with a fairy tale from the world of Brecht.
University of California Berkeley
by Bertolt Brecht Translation by Alistair Beaton
Directed by Christine Nicholson
Music composed by Ryan Huber
NOVEMBER 24, 2019
Two hours 20 minutes with One intermission
UCB Campus, Berkeley Ca
Photo’s by Ben Dillion