Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Baal by Bertolt Brecht, Paper Chairs at the Salvage Vanguard Theatre, November 11 - 28

Baal by Brecht, Paper Chairs, Austin

Baal was Brecht's first play, written in 1918 at the age of twenty. He had avoided the draft by taking a medical course and he was called up to staff a venereal disease clinic only a month before the war ended, and much of that time he was studying theatre.

Brecht did not articulate his doctrine of theatrical alienation until 1935, but this text and the production of it by Dustin Wills and the Paper Chairs company suggest strongly that he was on his way in that direction from the very first of his career. Playwright and company achieve the Verfremdungseffekt by using plot devices and staging techniques that remind spectators that they are witnessing a theatrical enactment, not real life -- the intent is didactic, pressing viewers to question and to rouse themselves from the comfort of their passivity. It is a tidy justification for a presentational (not representational) stage technique. Many readers and theatre practitioners consider that Brecht's stories and characters gripped his audiences despite of the V-effekt instead of because of it.

I wanted to like this production because I appreciate Wills' exploration of early 20th century theatre and I enjoy the brash ensemble techniques he encourages. You enter the Salvage Vanguard to find a square central stage oriented in proscenium fashion, even though there's no proscenium. Instead, on either side, you see "backstage" dressing and costuming areas, with cast members boisterously preparing for the show. They wear baggy underclothes of tan-colored muslin, they pay little attention to the gathering spectators, they josh, they fret, they give the impression of a circus troupe preparing for one more day on the boards. Some will wander by to greet spectators; others do vocal or physical exercises. The energy is attractive and invigorating.

Read more at AustinLiveTheatre.com . . . .

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