The Caucasian Chalk Circle Proves Everything Old is New Again

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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What a ride!  Anteaus’ last play of the season starts even before we’ve climbed into our seats, and then, in typical Brechtian style,  progresses from there.  The play, of course is by Brecht.  In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht takes a familiar story (variously found in the Bible and in ancient Buddhist documents) of a child’s disputed guardianship, and he builds an entire polemic about the effects of war that is as significant today as if he hadn’t been skewering WWII, but Syria.

Outside in the lobby, players speak to us about the issues.  It turns out that nothing has changed: the same urgency that Brecht had then are the issues we’re grappling with now.  I feel tempted to begin quoting Brecht’s translater, Alistair Beaton, at length, since he is responsible for the freshness of the dialogue, but the play speaks to us for itself.

Executed in a mix of song and dance, narration and dumbshow that his own “Epic” effect popularized, Stephannie Shroyer utilizes every inch of Anteaus’ long stage to keep everything moving in a precise kaleidoscope of story and sound.  Anteaus’ strong ensemble ethic is well represented as veterans interchange roles with newcomers and back again.  It’s no use trying to single out any one performance – they are all strong – but each ensemble member brings his or her own distinctive style to the play. Again, Shroyer’s direction comes to the fore, as these actors represent, they do not embody characters.

A reminder: the story of the Chalk Circle – the resolution for the Child – is only the pretext for a longer tale about a conflict that lays waste to a country and forces the child’s nurse to spirit him over a treacherous path.  To accomplish this saga, Frederica Nascimento has developed a mix of set pieces, along with Erin Walley’s props, that takes us along on the journey.  Together with Angela Calin’s vaguely ethnic costumes, Ken Booth’s atmospheric lighting helps us know we are not in a fantasyland, but definitely somewhere else in time and space.  The abundance of song, dictated by Brecht himself, and curated by sound designer Jeff Gardner completes the circle.

The evening that I saw the play, the Kiki & David Gindler library  at Anteaus was not open.  But the excitement of this production of Chalk Circle did not diminish.  Our conversations lasted long after we left the lobby.  It’s a show and a performance that will keep you talking!

The Caucasian Chalk Circle continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm and Mondays at 8:00 pm through August 26th at Anteaus Theatre Company’s Performing Arts Center,  110 East Broadway, Glendale, 91205. Tickets range from $15.00 (students) to $35.00-. Purchase online at www.anteaus.org.