Thursday, 26 March 2015

Alienation: it's not just boredom, Brecht

In the Lyceum's production of Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, it
takes around two and a half hours to get to the nub of the story: in an almost throwaway line, the story-teller musician explains that the land, like everything else, belongs to those who care. This simple platitude - which hardly explains the political dilemma that begins the epic adventure - seems redundant and disappointing. In the previous scenes, maternal heroism had battled with legal corruption, revolutionary promiscuity and masculine dishonesty. Brecht's pat moral seems too small, too obvious to do justify to the scope of the story.

Now, young lady. What can you bring to my part?
The two most well known facts about Brechtian theatre, after his rejection of all American values except the casting couch, are that it is supposed to be politically engaged (he said that Marx would have been his perfect audience member), and that it breaks the fourth wall (apparently, this involves shouting at the audience rather than pretending that they are not there). A more developed interpretation of these fantastic facts are that Brecht strove to show alienation in his productions, encouraging the audience to see how the apparent inevitability of situations was, actually a function of capitalist tyranny.

Disregarding the frequent assertion that Brecht failed to integrate his theories into his scripts (most contemporary productions home in on his vivid characterisation or energy, making them a romp rather than the cerebral vision he desired), the 'alienation effect' is in action at the end of the CCC. Having involved the audience in all sorts of shenanigans - mountain crossings, unhappy marriages - he abruptly halts the action with a moral that does not actually add anything - it just grinds the action to a halt. It looks like a simple finale, but leaves behind more questions than answers.

Most of all, it refuses to return to the play that begun the evening,
that play that then has the play-within-a-play. That play is an earnest discussion about the use of land following a war - exactly the kind of rhetorical bore that subsumes the theatrical for political worthiness. Whether there was a flood of relief the first time that this play gave way to the more mythical narrative is a matter of conjecture - although I have nightmares about going to see CCC only to find that the bit about the baby and the mother has been replaced by three hours of chat about the relative value of industrial and agrarian economies.

By leaving that open-ended, Brecht has given the audience something to chat about: what decision would be reached, and how does all that running about the Caucasus reflect the issue of land distribution. Admirably, Brecht develops his characters to a point of complexity (his proletarian judge, for example, is both champion of the poor and a rape apologist). There are no easy answers.

And by having a folk tale, Bertie gives his audience some fun before they get all serious. Doubtless, the bores in the bar have a fine time trying to figure it all out, but better bores with beer battling bombastically than stupid signifiers of social systems struggling on stage.

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  1. Fun Meets Facts
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    Ideas to Kill Boredom

    Funny Lists, Pranks, and Ideas to Kill Boredom by FunChart. List of random things to do when bored, prank call ideas, hilarious images and articles. Site: http://www.funchart.com

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