Brecht on Brecht at The Atwater Playhouse

By Oscar Basulto
Staff Writer

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Gil Hagen-Hill (l.), Gregg Lawrence, Daniel Houston-Davila. Credit: Belinda Howell.

One of the reasons I am compelled toward the arts is its capacity to deliver strong political messages and to inspire its audience toward action.  So I jumped at the opportunity to review The Other Theatre Company’s abridged version of George Tabori’s Brecht on Brecht, now playing at the Atwater Playhouse through June 9.  L.A. theater veteran Alistair Hunter directs this multimedia production that has a lot going for it.  Along with Hunter’s selection of monologues, poems and songs from Tabori’s expansive compilation of Brecht’s early works, pictures and recordings of his testimony at HUAC punctuates each piece and serves as transitions between each selection. 

Tabori encouraged directors to pick from pieces of his expansive collection and to arrange them in any order.  It is a unique work in that one may be able to see the same company perform Brecht on Brecht on different occasions and come away with an entirely different experience.  With this production, Hunter has chosen a set list which will remain consistent through closing night.  This production adheres to the Brechtian notion that the audience is not there to suspend its disbelief, but to witness the characters’ struggle to squeeze out a living in the face of impossible situations precipitated by political authority, to be compelled to political action.

As the audience enters, they are greeted by an austere early 20th Century parlor, four chairs and a couple of set pieces, effectively placing you into the playing space.  It is an appropriate setting for an evening of storytelling, calling to mind the way family elders entertained the kiddies before radio.  Those stories not only entertained they provided a mythology by which morals were transmitted.  In the case of Brecht’s work, what is transmitted is a call to action. Hunter’s lighting evokes those low-lit memories of early electric bulbs and adds substantially to creating that era’s atmosphere.

Photo 1 Gregg Lawrence (l.), Susan Kussman, Belinda Howell, Daniel Houston-Davila. Credit: Allan Rabinowitz.

Gregg Lawrence (l.), Susan Kussman, Belinda Howell, Daniel Houston-Davila. Credit: Allan Rabinowitz.

The performances were uneven, though Daniel Houston-Davila was consistently present and enjoyable throughout.  At worse, rote delivery of lines and emotions failed to convey honest moments.  But magic happens when the entire cast truly goes for it.  This was especially true for the songs which were done with appropriate joy and poignancy.  Among the more memorable moments was Alabama Song, which was famously covered by The Doors.

Despite my personal political affinity with Brecht, I had a difficult time making lasting connections throughout the show.  Just when I was hoping to know more about a certain character and their story, we were off to the next piece.  But his work is timeless as people continue to struggle for justice throughout the world.  He produced work in opposition to a fascist regime whose absolute control over Germany was enforced with an iron fist.  Today, the widening economic gap between the rich and poor continues to challenge working families.  Additionally, the proliferation of neoliberal policies and thinking has created a more underhanded foe with no one identifiable figurehead to focus any struggle.

Those familiar with Brecht will appreciate this best of collection of his earlier works.  While those just being introduced to him should see The Other Theatre Company’s production as a primer for further study.

***

BRECHT ON BRECHT
A theatrical entertainment based on the writings of Bertolt Brecht
Conceived by George Tabori from various translations.
Arranged and directed by Alistair Hunter with musical director Gayle Bluemel.
Presented by The Other Theatre Company, produced by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.

Atwater Playhouse
3191 Casitas Ave. #100
Los Angeles, CA 90039.

Performance Dates
April 29, 2013 – June 9, 2013
Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Dark on May 12, 24, 25, 26.

Tickets
ADMISSION: $25. Students and seniors, $18.
RESERVATIONS: (323) 960-1054.
ONLINE:  www.Plays411.com/brecht

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