Friday, May 31, 2013

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Caucasian Chalk Circle

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.

More Information:
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:

Christians might also like to know:
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexually suggestive dialogue and actions

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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