The Caucasian Chalk Circle
The plays of Bertolt Brecht, certainly the most famous and divisive political playwright of the 20th century, are slowly coming back into vogue.
Just a few months ago, the Foundry Theatre’s staging of “The Good Person of Szechwan” at LaMaMa proved to be one of the most exciting Brecht revivals in years. (Luckily, the production will be done again next season at the Public Theater.)
So it was only a matter of time before “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” one of Brecht’s most unusual works, received a revival.
Written in 1944, it is a parable about Grusha (Elizabeth A. Davis), a poor peasant girl who rescues and takes care of a young boy whose mother, a haughty noblewoman (Mary Testa), forgot about him while fleeing during a military coup.
It also explores Azdak (Christopher Lloyd), a peasant fond of unorthodox logic who rises to become a judge and eventually must choose whether the child belongs to Grusha or the noblewoman, who wants him back only for legal and financial reasons.
Director Brian Kulick sets his production around the fall of the Soviet Union and uses a gritty design scheme which suits the drama’s atmosphere.
However, he made a critical error in removing its outer framework, which involved two communities fighting over farmland. Out of context, the story of Grusha makes less of an impact and Brecht’s epic aesthetic is less noticeable.
However, the production features strong performances from Davis (a Tony nominee for her performance in the musical “Once”), Lloyd (who has been absent from the New York theater for some time) and Testa (who always brims with personality). The young boy is portrayed effectively and rather movingly through puppetry.
It is further enlivened by Duncan Sheik’s new music for the play’s many songs.
‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’plays at Classic Stage Company through June 23. 136 E. 13th St., 212-352-3101, classicstage.org.