Presented by New Rep Theatre
Prophetic Portraits: Exploring history at the level of the individual
By Bertolt Brecht
Arranged by George Tabori from various translations
Co-Produced with Boston Center for American Performance
Directed by Jim Petosa
Music direction by Matthew Stern
90 minutes with no intermission
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Watertown, MA) Bertolt Brecht was a selfish, arrogant, exceedingly charismatic dick. He was also a “genius” thanks to the help of collaborators such as Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill. Brecht did not support them. He could turn a phrase, though.
Elisabeth Hauptmann was Brecht’s translator and co-writer. She translated Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera and worked the majority of it into Kurt Weill’s music (more on him in a second). She wrote the English lyrics to “Alabama Song” but gave credit to Brecht. She wrote the book for Happy End (again, music by Weill). Her credits go on and on. Hauptmann was also his lover and administrative assistant. Brecht took the credit for just about everything. Hauptmann let him.
Brilliant musician Kurt Weill wrote the music for Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), the notable and ever popular Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), several gorgeous operas in German, Happy End (lyrics by “Brecht” and book by Hauptmann). Texts on Brecht might not mention it, but Weill and Brecht kept a continuing argument regarding credit for Weill’s music. Brecht arrogantly insisted he should be credited instead of Weill. Weill refused to be cowed.
Weill was famous on his own merits. After fleeing Hitler in 1933, both because he was Jewish and because he engaged in anti-Nazi propaganda, he made a name for himself in Hollywood and on Broadway. Lotte Lenya set up the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music after his death in 1950 to protect his works.
I mention these two artists because they made a great impact on Brecht’s career. Brecht on Brecht completely ignores their contributions to Brecht’s work. Without either of them (plus others currently unlisted because I only have so much ire), Brecht would not, could not enjoy his infamy. The show does not go five minutes without referencing a production that either Weill or Hauptmann worked on, yet they are absent from the program notes. The Samuel French’s licensing website doesn’t mention them either. It’s as if Brecht created these works by himself. Nay sir, I do protest; you were a collaborator, not an independent savant.
To add insult to injury, New Rep’s program lists Weill as a “composter.”
Be that as it may, and despite its plagiaristic multitudes, Brecht on Brecht is a captivating show. George Tabori summarizes Brecht’s work succinctly. There are no loose ends in his editing. It runs a range of humor to serious and back again. It’s a clever, well compiled show that offers many chewy, delicious monologues and songs to its artists.
The cast of Brecht on Brecht delivers a fantastic performance. They are full of energy and political vim. Music director Stern gave them what appears to be excellent vocal coaching for tricky music. Director Petosa gives life to what could easily be a stand and sing concert show. They both implement the strengths of their cast to make the pieces of this production click.
Their approach to the show can be likened to children’s theatre in that it is full of energy, and pointing to obvious facts in order to teach an audience. It’s a socio-political panto for the adults repeating history because they didn’t learn from it the first time. Brecht’s musings on religious hypocrisy, unlawful politics, war and other topics are still as relevant as they were when he wrote them. His insight into the human condition gives his plays an immortality that will always be relevant.
Brecht on Brecht (Brecht’s favorite subject) is good. It’s very good. Castmates Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy and Brad Daniel Peloquin are the people’s actors embodying the people’s fight for acknowledgement. The Threepenny Opera, among other music, winds through the production like a lover. It’s a wonderful production. Brecht is still a jackass.
We elected a thin skinned bigot to the office of the President dead set on turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. His plan to slash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities is HERE. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so. Fight him. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD
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