The Caucasian Chalk Circle – Review

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The German anti-capitalist playwright Berthold Brecht wrote this parable play in 1944 (based on a 14th-century Chinese play and in a new translation by Alistair Beaton), setting it as a play-within-a-play where two conflicting groups of peasants in Soviet Russia compete for farm land: the Collective Fruit Farm Galinsk and the Collective Goat Farmers. A traveling singer (an amazing Steve Hofvendahl) and his small band arrive and agree to help settle the dispute by acting out a folk tale of peasants reacting to ungracious nobles. 

Paul Baird and Claudia Elmore – Photo by Jenny Graham

Set in the Caucasus mountains of Georgia, a revolution has executed the governor of the province, and his snotty/snobby wife (stately Claudia Elmore) abandons their infant son while hastily packing her rich belongings. A servant girl, Grusha (an absorbing Liza Seneca), unofficially engaged to a kindly solider, saves the child and has a devil of a time keeping him as well as her head and her virginity from other victorious soldiers. 

Brecht wrote this parable while in voluntary exile in the United States, drawing criticism from conservative politicians for “un-American” thought.  But the show has been widely performed since and admired for some essential truths about justice and fairness, irrespective of ideology. 

Connor Kelly-Eiding, Troy Guthrie, Liza Seneca and Turner Frankosky – Photo by Jenny Graham

Antaeus has worked its usual magic on a difficult play using their always remarkable company as an ensemble, under the notable direction of Stephanie Shroyer, to not only underplay the polemics (peasant v. noble) but find the humanity behind the horrors of war and polluted politics, including invented music by her company to the song lyrics of Brecht. 

The ensemble, featuring long-time Antaeus members and newer, younger, recruits do extraordinarily well, most of them playing multiple roles.  Especially good are John Apicella, Gabriela Bonet, Janellen Steininger, Turner Frankovsky. Troy Guthrie, and Connor Kelly-Eiding. 

Turner Frankosky, Janellen Steininger, Liza Seneca, George Villas and Steve Hofvendahl
Photo by Jenny Graham

The flexible set by Federico Nascimento allows for plenty of room for the action (including some dancing) to spread its wings and Angela Calin’s costumes keep us firmly grounded in time and place. 

If you are unaware of this play, do yourself the favor of seeing it as it’s now a classic piece, well-produced here. You’ll have a grand time watching it.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle plays through August 26th, 2019, at the Gindler/Antaeus Performing Arts Theatre, 110 East Broadway, Glendale, CA, 91205.  Tickets:  818.506.1983 or at www.antaeus.org