Category: UNCIVIL WARS (7)
When Neil Baldwin, professor in MSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance, showed us student work in response to David Gordon’s recent UNCIVIL WARS: MOVING W/BRECHT & EISLER, we became more certain than ever before that the kids are all right!
Now, we’re pleased to introduce to Insite…Student Forum! This new feature will give us a chance to showcase MSU student work written in response to Peak Performances programming. Here’s a sample from Megan Bearint, written for Baldwin’s course “The Undergraduate Dramaturgy Workshop”:
“Attending Thursday night’s performance of UNCIVIL WARS with an already captivated and prepared knowledge of his [Brecht's] composition, I was eager to see these characters come to life. Though I had my mind set on how the night was going to pan out, something different had caught my eye. I sat in my chair and during the first act, I noticed a lady stand with her things and leave the theater. This is when I realized my advantage among many: I had been introduced to Brecht’s bizarre, surreal eye for theatre when others had not. The woman leaving the theatre had put a different perspective into my mind: Brecht’s mind is a roller coaster. Thoughts enter in and enter out instantaneously, speedy and direct, cutting edges and halting stops. If by chance you are not ready for the ride, then the loops he puts you through are not going to be subdued. I believe that my knowledge-based perspective of Brecht delivered me a better appreciation for the performance of UNCIVIL WARS, in that if I had not obtained this mindset, then I would find myself lost. I saw UNCIVIL WARS as traditional, accurate, and simplistic: an exact replica of what Brecht wanted.”
For more from other students, go to the “Student Forum” or “UNCIVIL WARS” sections of Insite. These students sure are teaching us a lesson when it comes to critique, and we are very pleased to present their work to you.
To close, here’s another quote from Megan that we love: ”with all due respect, good thing nobody gave Brecht a hammer, because his tendency to beat you over the head with things is miraculous.”
Sara Wintz is Communications Assistant in the Office of Arts & Cultural Programming at Montclair State University. Her writing has appeared on Ceptuetics and in the Poetry Project Newsletter.
It does not matter that I’ve read Roundheads and Peakheads, and it does not matter that we dissected it inside and out in class for weeks. Nothing matters, because once I’ve stepped inside Kasser I’m gone from the real world straight into David Gordon’s vision of Brecht. This is the first play I’ve seen in months where I have absolutely no idea what to expect, and I kinda like it.
I love getting a taste of what I’m seeing before the show starts. Gordon begins with the curtains open, his simplistic set in full view. It looks like a classroom raided of its chairs, as there are endless rows onstage, bookended by coat-hanger racks. In the middle of the set sits a sharp-looking flat-screen TV. Next to the TV, standing out as the least sleek and modern item, is a piano and a music desk.
In my imagination’s version of Roundheads and Peakheads, I saw sweeping landscapes of a Russian-esque Yahoo. Although I could have pictured the set differently, it was almost what I expected for this production and knew that each piece would have a specific function and not be placed as mere “decoration.” It wouldn’t seem very Gordon and it wouldn’t be very Brecht.
Pick Up Performance Co(S.), headed by David Gordon and his wife, Valda Setterfield, has created a feast of theatrical, historical, and political signs in UNCIVIL WARS: MOVING W/BRECHT & EISLER. Based on Bertolt Brecht’s Roundheads and Peakheads first published in 1937, it expands the world of the play to include historical and political conditions surrounding Brecht’s life. Gordon uses every aspect of the performance to communicate through symbols in a manner that is congruent with Brecht’s minimalist and didactic approach. It is a Gesamtkunstwerk in that it combines many art forms and all are employed in a way that challenges the viewer to question and reflect.
Director David Gordon creates a didactic evening in more ways than one. Brecht’s original parable about the rise of the Nazi movement is presented as if in quotation marks. The play is framed by the actors’ commentary providing historical information on the life and work of Bertolt Brecht, some of which is drawn from letters and essays. This format serves as an example of Brecht’s verfremdungseffekt, a theatrical device that creates distance between the viewer and the work of art. The audience member is not submerged in the action of the play. Gordon consistently inspires thoughtful reflection through the presentational methods chosen, which communicate that we should be critical of the characters and draw parallels between them and our own reality.
The best part of the show for any actor, I would imagine, is the applause. And it is all the better then for a Brechtian production of UNCIVIL WARS to intentionally include one’s own actors onstage serving as “live audience members” that could watch the play. They are an important part of a symphony of musical elements that translate semiological ideas as understood by Brecht from the past to what we may make of it in the present.
These actors strike a silent chord; upon their entrance, we begin to see a web of the modern, the imagined, and that which we think is historically fact, which can only be truly “heard” by the play’s end. As a group, clapping and stomping in rhythmic patterns that are rather difficult to anticipate, the various “authors” of the play, as I will explain, have given us an acknowledgment that these actions from the actors have met the tone and tenor of a work of theater. Not only that, it helps the audience participate in the otherwise self-referential game played by actors…to engage themselves in telling a story. It takes little to “de-familarize” we the audience, per se, before it devolves back into the expected. However, there is no chance here, within this exchange of voiceless dialogue, that what is to be understood is anything less than semiological in value and substance.
UNCIVIL WARS: MOVING W/BRECHT & EISLER is an adaptation of Roundheads and Peakheads, that attempts to contextualize and simplify Brecht’s work. The production is directed by David Gordon. Though I felt that many elements of the performance were strong, the overall production lacked passion and true innovation. Some of the most effective moments were due to creative interpretations of gender.
The first effective use of gender was through costuming. The play frequently points out that scapegoats and racism are due to minute differences between people—such as having a rounded or pointed head. Gender is a quality that categorizes and separates people immediately. For the most part, the actors wore plain, shapeless, unisex black jumpsuits throughout the show. By costuming the actors in the same genderless attire, the director unified the actors and eliminated the immediate division of gender.