There again is that tell-tale rusty chain-link fence. The stage is something of a junk yard. The lighting is harsh; strip lights exposed. It could be a stage representing a work camp in Germany, or the East Village of disaffected youth. It could be Rent or American Idiot. This time it's Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a modernist play written in 1944, which smells a little musty today. I could submit that the theater of Brecht is itself obsolete. War is hell. Heads of state are immoral. Justice is corrupt. Tell us something we don't know.
But Berkeley Rep made it all very relevant a few years back with its powerful staging of Mother Courage (Halliburton, anyone?). So the fault must lie, in part, in John Doyle's new production of Chalk Circle which opened last Wednesday at ACT.
Yes the play itself is not as powerful as Mother Courage and not as devilishly entertaining as Three-Penny Opera. But this spiritless revival -- with a new translation by A.C.T. associate artist Domenique Lozano -- doesn't help.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle features actors playing instruments, a signature of the play's Tony Award-winning director John Doyle (see revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company), with original music from avant-garde composer Nathaniel Stookey (Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead). A narrator/singer played by Manoel Felciano tells the story.
The play begins with a military coup in what is now Georgia, during the country's war with Persia. As rebels invade the palace, the governor and his wife prepare to flee. The Governor's wife, amusingly played by the excellent René Augesen, is so preoccupied with stuffing her luggage with fancy frocks and getting the F out of dodge that she forgets all about her infant son.