Sunday, November 12, 2006

Caucasian Chalk Circle

In 1945, just after the end of World War II, in the ruins of the village of Nukha in the Caucasus Mountains, the people who had fled their ancestral home return, but the newcomers who had defended the village don’t want to go back to where they came from. What to do about the land, when the two groups have such radically different ideas?

Into this scene comes a singer-storyteller, to involve all of the people in both groups in a grand play about another war, long, long ago.

Thus is the stage set for Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. I had not heard of this play before, but I enjoy plays in general, so when Mom asked if I’d like to go with her, I eagerly agreed. I was not disappointed. The students of Nebraska Wesleyan University put on a superb show, with excellent acting, singing, and costuming all around.

The play within the play tells the story of a coup in which the governor of Nukha was killed. His wife, more concerned with her dresses than her infant son, flees the estate, leaving the child behind. Grusha, a servant girl, can not bear to leave the infant to die, despite the urgings of her friends. And so she picks up the baby and flees to the mountains, and her choice to save the child could cost her everything.

By intermission, I felt certain that none of the characters in this story could possibly find their way to a happy ending. The tone had been very dark, and the situation increasingly bleak. But then in the second act, a new character, the clownish drunkard judge Azdak, ignorant of the law, incurably corrupt, but with a glimmering understanding of justice, turned everything upside down, inside out, and backwards. The final chapter was a retooling of the familiar tale of King Solomon and the two mothers. Almost but not quite a deus ex machina, but still, I was glad for the upbeat ending.

All in all, a wonderful production of a captivating play. Too bad this afternoon’s performance was the last of the run, so I can’t tell you all to rush out and see it.

No comments: