The Caucasian Chalk Circle comes to Harbach stage

Brecht's tale of justice shines on stage

February 27, 2013

Part of a series on Theater

Senior Avery Wigglesworth holds abandoned baby Michael for Repertory Theatre Term’s production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” during a dress rehearsal Sunday, Feb. 24. (Michelle Orr/TKS)

Senior Avery Wigglesworth holds abandoned baby Michael for Repertory Theatre Term’s production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” during a dress rehearsal Sunday, Feb. 24. (Michelle Orr/TKS)

A old story of justice was told with a surreal modernity in the Knox Repertory  Theatre Term’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.”

The play, which works off the translation of James and Tania Stern (with W.H. Auden) and was directed by Associate Professor of Theatre  Jeff Grace, is, on a literal level, a play within a play.

On a literal level, it is the story of a woman (senior Avery Wigglesworth) who raises a royal child that was abandoned in a time of mutiny and comes to think of it as her own and the judge (junior Neil Phelps) who is charged with deciding who the child’s real mother actually is.

On this very basic level, the play is successful. The actors bring the story to the stage with heart and feeling. The stage production is innovative and compelling. Wigglesworth takes on the role of the play’s heart and carries the audience into the story with aplomb. Phelps takes on the judge as a noble rascal who is unpredictable and ultimately charming. This is not to say that the ensemble does not steal their fair share of scenes. (Senior Steve Selwa proved he can be hilarious given a few minutes and a scarf.)

However, Brecht did not mean his play to simply be a nice story. The plot of the play was lifted from a much older Chinese story, “The Chalk Circle” by Li Qianfu. In the play, a troupe of players are retelling the story to two groups who are trying to decide if a piece of land should go to its ancestral owners or a new group who want to turn it into a profitable orchard.

This format casts the story as a parable and not only allows song and narration to be woven seamlessly into the piece, but also hints at the play’s deeper message about ownership, love and justice.

The play is not perfect. The runtime (which clocks in at over two hours) might fatigue some viewers, and some of the beginning exposition could be confusing. However,  it’s worth a watch.

Brecht was clever enough to serve his medicine with sugar, and the Knox repertory company keeps the play sweet enough to go down easily.

Editor’s Note: “The Green Bird” declined a preview and will receive a full review in next week’s TKS. Sam Brownson is a copy editor for TKS.

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  • Miranda Loeber

    Two hours is actually fairly short for a play, and is the length of your average movie – plus there’s an intermission to get up and stretch your legs! So I wouldn’t worry about the length.

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