58. The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht
We learned about Brecht's theories and the epic theatre movement in my Theatre and Society class, and then we read The Caucasian Chalk Circle and watched the current production of it at my school.
The plot of the story is about a kitchen maid, Grusha, in the 1940s Soviet Union. The Governor, whom she works for, is killed in a revolution, and his wife flees, leaving their infant son behind. Grusha decides to save the boy and care for him as her own. When a counter-revolution occurs, the Governor's wife comes back and accuses Grusha of kidnapping her son. The judge Azdek, notorious for drunkenness and judgments in favor of the poor, decides on the case.
The story is a parable, meant to illustrate the Communist-type idea that whoever puts effort into a piece of land or raising a child, deserves ownership, rather than the one who merely 'owns' the thing in a capitalistic sense.
While it's a benign message now that we know Communism doesn't work, I've been thinking about how the play applies to today. The idea behind epic theatre is that the audience realizes the play is a play, which they are welcome to analyze. Brecht's tactics include narrators, signs, and interrupting song-and-dance routines. The director of this production used props in a symbolic and obvious manner; a watermelon for the decapitated head of the Governor, two actors holding a rope for a bridge, a stagehand literally droppping paper snowflakes on Grusha's head, and last but not least, a shopping cart of bubble wrap for a bath!
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is interesting in a theoretical sense, but not very relevant to today, and in the end it's a retelling of Solomon and the story of the two women and the child. It's worth seeing, but not really worth reading unless you're a scholar of epic theatre or theatre in general.