Burning Coal - Artistic Director's Page

Burning Coal Artistic Director Jerome Davis weighs in on topics theatrical and otherwise.....NEW RULE: ONLY RESPONSES THAT SHOW FULL NAME OF BLOGGER WILL BE POSTED ON THIS SITE. - JD

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Having seen the Meryl Streep/Kevin Kline MOTHER COURAGE in Central Park last week, I am wondering what makes directors, even onse as estimable as George Wolfe, so afraid of Brecht? The production was sound, with very strong acting and a nicely modernized (without being cloying) adaptation from Tony Kushner, but the staging was as if Wolfe saw Brecht across the street and ran the other way. Why? A night later I watched the stunning new SWEENEY TODD (on Broadway, of all places), directed by the experienced but relatively unheralded Scotsman John Doyle. I am happy to report that this intimate chamber version of Sondheim's masterpiece got Brecht right in a way that Wolfe and the Shakespeare Festival failed to. Nothing onstage was unused. Most ideas were conveyed in a non-literal sense. Actors played two and three roles with little fanfare or change of costume. A woman played Perrelli, a tiny white coffin stood in for all sorts of things: a chair, the shrunken soul of the leading man, and everyone remained in full view of the audience, almost without exception, throughout. The actors all played musical instruments, often while acting or changing scenery and there was no orchestra hiding in the pit pretending not to be there. In short, this was a vision of the future of "Broadway musicals" - a way in which the form can extricate itself from the bloodless (no pun intended) mediocrity that most of it has become in the last few decades. Which brings me back around to my original question: why are directors so afraid to completely try Brecht, and why are our critics so afraid to acknowledge work that consistently confronts his radical ideas. Of course, those ideas were radical 70 years ago when they were first coming into the consciousness of theatre audiences and practitioners. Are they so radical, so difficult to consistently accomplish, that we are not yet ready to face up to the truths inherent in Brecht?