Posted November 13, 2015 by
Tags: The Arts Student Activities My Wheaton Campus
Arena Theatre's Caucasian Chalk Circle
“The war is over! Beware the Peace!” declares a character in Brecht’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Arena Theater’s production of Brecht’s play emphasizes the playwright’s quest for peace and justice in the face of war.
Brecht is known for his usually heavy plays, and he was a pioneer of modern theater, advocating for art which encouraged social change and action. He does not try to entertain, but to provoke thought. He weaves humor over his weighty topics, yet is not afraid to momentarily show the audience the darkness he dances around.
“The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” perfectly captures the ambiguity of a war zone: the audience is faced with both the menace and grandeur of battle, the invasion and desperate plight of the insignificant. Even the resolution of the play is overshadowed by unanswered questions: does war further justice? Does justice further peace? As an actor, these ambiguities are a space for work.
“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” calls for over 70 characters and Arena Theater’s current production is populated by only 18 actors. We are all playing many roles, attacking problems from several points of view. Many of these characters are terrible people: selfish, deceitful, filthy. It is the actor’s job to humanize them, and I find myself asking, “How is this person better than I?”
I am forced to be patient, generous, and even merciful with these characters as I simultaneously use them to tell a story while also authentically advocating for them in their own risky worlds. Perhaps it is this mercy which can further peace in the world as we reach out to “the least of these.”
Brecht keeps his story moving through song and Arena’s production pairs the confrontational, driving energy of hip-hop music with the playwright’s need to be heard. Beats and textures dominate the soundscape as characters and musicians fall in and out of rhythm with Brecht’s songs and dialogue. Working with composer Elliot Leung '17 and director Michael Stauffer, we fit words to music to stage in a daunting feat of multi-media manipulation. We decided to end the play with a prayer.
I adapted the tune of this “Dona Nobis Pacem” from the end of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8, composed shortly after WWII. The tempestuous symphony plots the end of a turbulent war and concludes in a major key, but deep rumblings of twisted musical phrases continue beneath the tranquility. The peace is not so peaceful after all. To reference Isaiah, though: we cry for peace! There is none. Perhaps as Christians we are the peacemakers of the world. Brecht certainly begs us to be.
Photo Captions: Lauren Gathman '17 and Olivia Wilder '16; Max Pointner '18 and Wilder; Gathman, Travis Shanahan '16, John Ingraham '18
Photo Credits: Paul Vermeesch '18