It's a big week for Bertolt Brecht, the revolutionary political playwright of the 20th century, with the opening of a terrific revival of his rarely seen masterpiece "Good Person of Szechwan," in addition to "Clive," a tedious new drama adapted from his early play "Baal."
Considering how Brecht would shamelessly borrow and even plagiarize the work of other playwrights, it seems fitting that Jonathan Marc Sherman should adapt "Baal," which depicts a despicable poet who engages in nonstop acts of debauchery.
"Clive" follows the same premise but transports it to early 1990s New York City, where the main character is now a wasteful and destructive rock singer, rather like a less-likable version of Roger from "Rent."
It serves mainly as an indulgent showcase for a dazed-looking Ethan Hawke, who also directed the production. The supporting cast includes Zoe Kazan, who portrays a series of young girls abused by Clive, the characteristically flamboyant Brooks Ashmanskas and Sherman himself.
"Good Person of Szechwan," a far more important Brecht play, explores how Shen Tei, a young prostitute with a heart of gold, who is so torn apart by the unrealistic ideals of how one ought to act from the gods that she invents Shui Ta, a ruthless male alter ego who steps in to take care of her dirty business.
The Foundry Theatre has put together a remarkable staging that combines Brecht's political passions with a hip downtown aesthetic and live rock music from Cesar Alvarez and The Lisps.
Drag artist Taylor Mac is a truly inspired casting choice, switching (and cross-dressing) between Shen Tei's tortured nobility and Shui Ta's ruthless practicality. Mac is joined by Lisa Kron, who is hilarious in a few small roles, and David Turner, as endearing as a water seller.
If you go: "Clive" plays at Theater Row through March 9. 410 W. 42nd St., thenewgroup.org.
"Good Person of Szechwan" plays at La MaMa through Feb. 24. 66 E. 4th St., 212-475-7710, lamama.org.