Saturday, November 1, 2008

"A Man's A Man"

Taking advantage of the free ticket Mark was able to get me since he works backstage, last night I went to see the Odyssey Theatre's "A Man's A Man." This new production of the ensemble's first play back in 1969 remains a relevant and timely critique of war and the military lifestyle. Brecht's emphasis on theatricality, such as the actors' use of white(and yellow) face, prevents the audience from suspending disbelief at the same time as it draws you deeper into the plot. In a show described as "shockingly theatrical," the protagonist stops at one point to address the audience, explaining "What Mr. Brecht is trying to say.." Taken in the context of the dominant realist plays of Eugene O'Neill and others popular at the time, it is easy to see how Brecht's onstage audacities created a unique niche in theatre, one which to this day is filled mostly by Brecht himself. Epic theatre concerns itself with philosophic ideas rather than stories, archetypes rather than real people, moral arguments rather than entertainment. Rather than affect audiences emotionally, Brecht attempts to reach viewers intellectually. "A Man's A Man" traces an impressionable packer's inadvertent transformation into a soldier of the British army as he is compelled by the members of a machine-gun unit to replace their missing fourth man. The progressive madness and uncertainty that pervades Galy Gay's reality and transforms him is portrayed with sensitivity and nuance by Beth Hogan. The play not only deals with a change in Galy Gay's occupation, but in his entire identity, as he grows to deny his old self and grow into the role of the soldier he is replacing. Burlesque song and dance anchors the key message (one man is no different than any other, and ultimately none are worth very much) and lends Widow Begbick's canteen a dark, brooding atmosphere.
The technical elements of "A Man's A Man" provide an illuminating introduction to Brecht's devices and conventions of stagecraft and allow the viewer to critically and circumspectly analyze the ideas he presents. Although emotion is by no means absent from the show, it serves to emphasize moral and intellectual propositions, leaving you to ponder the implications of the play long after its conclusion.

No comments: