|Christopher Lloyd and Elizabeth A. Davis. Photo: Joan Marcus|
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
By Bertolt Brecht
Transated by James and Tania Stern
Lyrics by W.H.Auden
Original Music by Duncan Sheik
Directed by Brian Kulick
Classic Stage Company
What's It All About?
Christoher Lloyd, a prolific stage actor, but probably more well know for the "Back to the Future" and "Addams Family" films and TV's "Taxi," heads a good ensemble bringing to life Brecht's final play within a play about a young peasant girl who adopts a baby of noble birth, set here in the time following the fall of Lenin (literally-- his statue gets pulled down in the opening scene.) Lloyd is the storyteller as we see young Grusha (Elizabeth A. Davis) decide to care for the infant boy abandoned by his mother, the wife of the fallen governor (Mary Testa), as she makes an exit during the political upheval. Over time, Grusha keeps the boy (portrayed by a couple of creepy dolls) safe and loves him like her own, despite giving up her own chance at happiness with soldier Simon (Alex Hurt) and marrying an unpleasant man, Yussup (Jason Babinsky). The boy's high-born birth mother returns to claim him, resulting in a tug of war that requires a Solomon-like solution from judge Azdak (Lloyd).
What are the Highlights?
Music by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Lyrics by W.H. Auden? I'm in.
Davis (who was nominated for her turn in Once) gets to play the violin a little and there's some nice humor. When Grusha and Yussup get married an apologetic player (Tom Riis Farrel) tells us that "Due to the extravagant short sightedness of Artistic Management there are not enough members of the cast to make for a proper wedding party. We must to have wedding guests for the wedding. We promise not to accost you, touch you, or make you say any lines whatsoever." Volunteers from the audience then are clad in Anita Yavich's costumes and placed on the Russian-motif set designed by Tony Straiges so the wedding can take place. The friend who attended with me volunteered and now gets to say, with complete honesty at parties, that he has appeared on stage with Christopher Lloyd and Mary Testa....
What are the Lowlights?
Well, I'm not a big Brecht fan. It kind of wanders, especially in the second act, and I'd like to cut about a half an hour at least from the two-and-a-half-hour run time (there is an intermission). And the whole chalk-circle story of a wise judge deciding who a child's "real" mother is gets a better telling in its original form in the book of Solomon -- or even as the old tale from Confucius.
Kind of wish Lloyd had more humor to work with and that the oh-so-talented Testa had more to sing.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle has been extended Off-Broadway through June 23 at Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets start at $60 for Tuesday through Thursday performances and $65 for Friday through Sunday performances. More info: www.classicstage.org.
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-- Sexually suggestive dialogue and actions