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Brecht in the Park

nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
July 14, 2013

Brecht in the Park

Ethan Angelica in In Search of Justice. Stick puppets by Joe Osheroff | Chris Harcum

If, like many, you’ve been thrown aback by the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, I strongly suggest attending Elephant Run District’s Brecht in the Park, featuring three short plays by Bertolt Brecht on the subject of justice. In particular, The Exception and the Rule is, well, exceptional, both as a work on its own and for its immediate relevance to the Zimmerman trial.

In The Elephant Calf the judicial process is farcical and nonsensical. As in Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, there is a scene where a judgment is apparently to be drawn by two people pulling another out of a circle like tug-o-war. The Calf played by Jenny Tibbels-Jordan is asked to prove himself innocent of murder by showing he could not murder the moon. Audience plant British soldiers interject throughout and their rousing rendition of ‘Hail Britannia’ was a highlight.

In Search of Justice details a judge’s deliberations over a complicated case involving Nazi SA soldiers, a Jew, a Communist, and other connected characters; all represented with cut out puppets. The devise of accompanying each and every mention of a character by a puppet movement and a particular sound cue helped to make the case comprehensible. But the judge, played by a worry-filled Ethan Angelica, is not merely weighing the truth of the case, but also his own fate depending on his ruling. He is caught in a bind, where with the Nazis in power, ruling in either direction would have negative repercussions for him personally. It’s easy to underestimate the significance of a trustworthy legal system and the rule of law in general, as not merely serving the whims of the powerful.

The Exception and the Rule chronicles a merchant, guide, and carrier, as they race to claim grounds for future oil. The Merchant, excellently played by Michael Perrie Jr. with a guiding paranoia regarding his workers, is completely cruel and exploitative, while the carrier is completely servile and dutiful. A series of scenes where the Merchant continues to act cruelly out of fear while the Carrier remains obedient cut right into our sense of human dignity. I won’t give away the result of the trial that develops, but at its close tears welled up in my eyes. These plays are certainly didactic, yet that in no way negates the audience’s emotional investment. The mask created by Joe Osheroff for the carrier is simple and tragic.

Director Aimee Todoroff offers a consistent ‘alienated’ style of performance, while allowing for variation in the different plays. Todoroff offered caricature without irony, and I felt the ideas of the works were brought forth fully.

As transitions between the plays the ensemble utilized the ‘mic-check’ from the occupy movement, where the listening audience repeats phrases back to the speaker. This was used to give factual nuggets about the implications of the Citizens United ruling, instances of Stand Your Ground laws, etc.

Catch these timely short works of Brecht by the Great Hill in Central Park (near the north east corner of the park) There are two more weekends to see these timely works at 4pm. Be sure to arrive early to allow for time to find the performance location.
I hope that Brecht in the Park is a tradition that continues in the years to come.