Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company — which has taken a lead role in recent years in reviving the too- long neglected plays of 20th century political playwright Bertolt Brecht, including classics like “Galileo” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” — may have overreached in bringing back “A Man’s a Man,” an early Brecht farce that is far inferior in quality.
Of course, this isn’t the first Brecht play of the current season. The Foundry Theatre just brought back its extraordinary production of Brecht’s morality drama “Good Person of Szechwan” for an encore run at the Public Theater.
Just as “Good Person” starred downtown performer Taylor Mac in drag, “A Man’s a Man” is headlined by transgender performance artist Justin Vivian Bond, who is also a fixture of the avant-garde scene with a strong fan base.
“A Man’s a Man,” which premiered in 1926 and was revised in 1954, depicts a seemingly normal, moral man who, while trying to find food for dinner one day, is recruited into joining the army through scheming and trickery.
He is ultimately brainwashed into becoming a merciless, unthinking soldier without a trace of his earlier identity.
Although Brecht wrote the play for a German audience, he set the play in British colonial India as a distancing device. As in all his work, Brecht wished to alienate the audience into being not passive spectators who emphasize and identity with the characters but objective critical thinkers.
Brian Kulick’s intimate production, which features original music by Duncan Sheik for a handful of songs, comes off as slow, disjointed and altogether uninteresting despite its dramatic central premise. Although billed as a farce, the humor fails to land.
Bond, who plays a sharp canteen owner who observes the man’s re-education, adds a lively and distinctive presence to what is otherwise a dull affair.
“A Man’s a Man” plays at Classic Stage Company through Feb. 16. 136 E. 13th St., 212-677-4210, classicstage.org.