Friday, July 27, 2018

Brecht on Brecht

Brecht on Brecht takes the work of dramatist Bertolt Brecht, a polarizing post-war Germany writer whose work criticized anti-Semitism and fascism, and compiles a provocative grouping of his plays, poems and essays. Hungarian playwright and adapter George Tabori’s revue premiered in 1961 and resonates an uncanny timeliness in a world where the power of dictators and intolerance is growing. "If, as our leaders proclaim, loudly over their loudspeakers that the Jews, the Mexicans, the Muslims are responsible for all our misfortune, and since are leaders are extremely wise and never cease to emphasize the fact..." as the script says at one point, could almost be a modern-day tweet.

Harrison Bryan, Christine Hamel, Jake Murphy and Carla Martinez. Photo by Stan Barouh.

The PTP/NYC revival, directed by Co-Artistic Director Jim Petosa offers an engaging yet uneven presentation of the life of the man probably most known for collaborating on The Three-Penny Opera with composer Kurt Weill. One of the best numbers is "Ballad of Mack the Knife," featuring Harrison Bryan who succeeds in projecting menace with a charming twinkle in his eye. Christine Hamel, as Judith from The Jewish Wife, offers an emotionally charged soliloquy as she speaks about needing to leave Nazi Germany and her husband behind - "Character is a question of time," she says. "It only lasts for awhile, just like a glove ... What kind of men are you? Yes, you too! You discover the quantum-theory, you invent heart-operations, but you let yourselves be ordered about by these half-savages, so that you may conquer the world, but you're not allowed to keep the wife you want."

This moment resonates and lingers - bringing the past forward to the present as Hamel projects hurt, fear of the future and the love for those Judith separates from while showing the heartbreak of the refugee, of the persecuted. But moments like this are fleeting. At times, the show seems overly frenetic with a false frivolity. When the cast enters and tosses their music on the floor and dons clown noses the pace of the show races unnecessarily so. Then, suddenly, the action falls as a more quiet pieces like "Nanna's Lied/Songs About My Mother," begin without real transition. The hyperactivity dilutes the fire of Brecht's activism.

Harrison Bryan. Photo by Stan Barouh.

The spare set (scenic design by Hallie Zieselman), consisting of criss-crossed rugs, and a piano create a nice space for the eight-member cast. Music director and pianist, Ronnie Romano, is flawless. Costumes by Annie Ulrich bridge the past and the present with outfits that represent different time periods.

Brecht on Brecht is part of PTP/NYC's (Potomac Theatre Project) 32nd repertory season that runs through August 5 at The Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16 St). For more information, see

(Press Seat)

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