NEW PALTZ -- Brecht's Epic Play Features Original Music
Poet, playwright, and theatrical reformer Bertolt Brecht is one of the most prominent figures in 20th-century theatre. His work has helped to shape generations of writers and theatergoers, and his plays are studied worldwide as texts that changed the face of theatre. One of Brecht's most popular plays, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, will be presented by the Department of Theatre Arts at SUNY New Paltz, April 27 - May 7.
This masterwork resonates with themes of morality, justice and the effects of war on individuals through the centuries. Inspired in part by the Chinese chalk circle legend (circa 1300), The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a parable written at the close of World War II, and set in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. It retells the tale of King Solomon and a child claimed by and fought over by two mothers. But this chalk circle is metaphorically drawn around a society misdirected in its priorities. Brecht's statements about class are cloaked in the innocence of a fable that whispers insistently to the audience.
The SUNY New Paltz production is directed by Frank Trezza, Chair of the Theatre Arts department. "I was drawn to the timeless themes of the work," Trezza says. "In the prologue of the text we meet characters from two villages at the end of a war. They are attempting to find a way to come together as a community and pick up the pieces of their war-torn country. This situation reminded me instantly of what is going on today in that very same region of the world - in places like Iraq. Brecht uses this backdrop to deal with the themes that dominate most of his works - critiques of war, militarism, profiteering, social and economic class divisions, and injustice."
Original music was written by Stephen Kitsakos. "Brecht wrote lyrics in the script, but he did not provide music for them," Kitsakos says. "As the title suggests, the play is set in the Caucauses, and the music reflects the rhythms and textures of that region. The research and composing has been informed by folk music of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Republic of Georgia as well as instrumentations of the Balkans. Instrumentation includes accordion, clarinet, flute, muted trumpet, and guitar. These are played by students in the Music and Theatre departments, conducted by clarinetist Andrew Montaruli, a senior in Music department. Percussion is played by the entire ensemble."
The rustic environment created by set designer Michael Heil has transformed the McKenna Theatre space. Heil constructed a hanamichi ? or runway that protrudes into the audience over the seating. An integral part of the Kabuki drama since the 18th-century, the hanamichi is used for climactic scenes?spectacular entries, exits, processions, and battles?and for scenes when intimacy and emotional rapport with the audience are desired.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is performed April 27, 28, 29, May 4, 5, 6 at 8pm. Matinee performances on April 30 and May 7 begin at 2pm. Tickets are $16 adults and $14 seniors, students, and SUNY staff. All seats are reserved. Tickets are on sale now online at www.newpaltz.edu/theatre. For telephone or in-person ticket sales, the Parker Theatre Box Office is open Monday-Friday, 11:30am - 4:30pm plus one hour prior to all performances. Call 845-257-3880. McKenna Theatre is wheelchair-accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for the hearing impaired.
More on Bertolt Brecht
In the course of Germany's troubled history from World War I to World War II and beyond, Bertolt Brecht became increasingly committed to analyses of the sociopolitical scene. He was not just a writer for the day, nor did he put topical subjects above artistic considerations. With a keen eye for hypocrisy and injustice, he addressed fundamental issues of humanity with the fervor of a rebellious idealist and the poetic sensitivity of a great artist. Long a figure of ideological controversy, Brecht has emerged as a classic, and his plays continue to challenge successive generations to take a close look at their world, to note its contradictions, and to weigh the options and actions that might change it for the better. He invented the Epic theatre style as well as breaking new artistic ground with his throuries on acting, directing, and playwriting.