By Bob Shuman

Resisters who see a parallel between Trump’s America and Germany and Italy in the 1930s and ‘40s are making a misjudgment, even if they have grievances against the current administration.  Hitler and Mussolini were pursuing forms of Socialism, anathema to the Capitalist agenda of the president–and to the founding principles of this nation, for that matter.  But because some theatre professionals insist that the terror and evil of the Nazi period can be analogous to today’s burgeoning U.S. economy, Bertold Brecht (1888-1956) has found the renaissance he deserves, with recent New York productions of Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Good Person of Szechwan, Mother Courage and Her Children, and, currently, the anthology revue Brecht On Brecht, from Potomac Theatre Project (the PTP/NYC season runs until August 5 at Atlantic Stage 2).  In 1962, critic Harold Clurman’s discussion of the show, which includes music by Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, and has been adapted by George Tabori, noted the dearth of representation of the playwright on American stages—he described the work, which Ethan Mordden says “began as a special matinee one-off, that launched an open run,” as “a full evening, yet it offers only a smattering of Brecht’s scope.  Still, it is better to have a bit of Brecht than none at all—especially since we have had so much discussion of Brecht, while the production of his work is still largely confined to foreign shores.”

Brecht, the poet, playwright, and director, a Marxist, did not always write his theatre pieces, in part or in total, yet out of a political crucible of horror and poverty, Epic Theatre was birthed, an achievement provoking awe, even if its cost was far too great.  Clurman encapsulated the show as: “devoted to [Brecht’s] life, short poems, anecdotes, a recording of his testimony at the hearing before the Un-American Activities Committee (1947), passages from diaries, epigrams, quips, and the readings of several songs (in the first part).  “Part Two—is composed of speeches and scenes from plays (also some songs).” The current director, Jim Petosa, reminds us of some of the writer’s slogans in his program note: “Sometimes it’s more important to be human, than to have good taste”;  “Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life”; “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” An uncanny thought that occurred to this reviewer, during the evening, was that Brecht might have gotten along with Saul Alinsky.   Yet the performers, in the current production, do not seem to be coming out of deep, radical experience.   Brecht On Brecht demands a knowledge of harsh life, his canon, as well as the ability to give oneself over completely to the discordant material—things one might not wish on anyone.  The young, well-trained cast, staged in front of a grand piano on oriental rugs (set by Hallie Zieselman), excel most in musicality (the music director and pianist is Ronnie Romano) and they are clear in voice (soloists are Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Harrison Bryan, and Jake Murphy–and the cast also includes Miguel Castillo, Sebastian LaPointe, Olivia Christie, and Ashley Michelle)–but the edge is largely missing. No matter the quality of the ensemble–and their diligence—however, there is a difference between the singer’s voice and an actor’s art—and adapting both to a production (despite Petosa’s clean direction) is no small challenge.  Adding to the dilemma is the fact that in its initial run, Lotte Lenya, star of Threepenny Opera, and wife of Brecht’s collaborator Kurt Weill, was part of Brecht On Brecht—she automatically gave the evening authenticity and authority.  

Clurman said that Brecht On Brecht recalls a time of “strong feeling, witty eloquence, high aspiration, struggle, and fortitude.” In 1962, he felt those qualities were absent in American society—and, ultimately, he thought the show offered a “note of nostalgia.”  Today, America seems to be playing out a fantasy, with less and less people who can even remember the toxic brew of World War II.  If Brecht were escapist, the evening might be a way to get away from it all—but he’s not; he is always more than that.  Even so, the audience is left, after a largely illustrative performance, with the merely incomparable:  “Barbara Song,” “Mack the Knife,” “Pirate Jenny,” “Surabaya  Johnny” to  only name  four of the songs.  Forget Rodgers, Loewe, Porter, Lloyd-Webber, and Sondheim.  The evening makes a rock-solid case that the finest of them all is Weill.    

© 2018 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

BRECHT ON BRECHT

Directed by Jim Petosa

Harrison Bryan, Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy, Miguel Castillo, Olivia Christie, Sebastian LaPointe and Ashley Michelle.

The production team for BRECHT ON BRECHT includes Ronnie Romano (Music Director and Pianist), Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design) and Alex Williamson (Production Stage Manager).

Brecht On Brecht photos:  Stan Barouh

Press: David Gibbs, DARR Publicity

 

PTP/NYC’S (POTOMAC THEATRE PROJECT) 32ND SEASON TO INCLUDE
BRECHT ON BRECHT, ADAPTED BY GEORGE TABORI & DIRECTED BY JIM PETOSA,
A DOUBLE BILL FEATURING
HOWARD BARKER’S THE POSSIBILITIES, DIRECTED BY RICHARD ROMAGNOLI &
CARYL CHURCHILL’S BBC TELEPLAY, THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE, DIRECTED BY CHERYL FARAONE,
AND THEIR ANNUAL AFTER DARK SERIES

OFF-BROADWAY PREVIEWS BEGIN JULY 10 AT ATLANTIC STAGE 2, WITH OPENINGS BEGINNING ON JULY 17, RUNNING THROUGH AUGUST 5

New York, NY – PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project), in association with Middlebury College, proudly presents its 32nd repertory season, its 12th consecutive in New York City, running July 10 – August 5, 2018 in a limited Off-Broadway engagement at The Atlantic Stage 2, located at 330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.

This season’s line-up includes BRECHT ON BRECHT, a theatrical collage culled from the writings of Bertolt Brecht, assembled from his works by George Tabori, directed by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Jim Petosa, a double bill featuring Howard Barker’s THE POSSIBILITIES, a quartet from an evening of parables, directed by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, and Caryl Churchill’s BBC teleplay, THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE, directed by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Cheryl Faraone, and their annual After Dark series. Previews begin on July 10 and openings begin on July 17.

Performances are Tuesdays – Sundays at 7pm, Saturdays – Sundays at 2pm, and select Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2pm. Schedule varies – for exact days and times visit http://PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors and $20 for previews. Purchase online at http://PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit http://PTPNYC.org, follow on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ptpnyc) at @ptpnyc, and Like them on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/pages/Potomac-Theatre-Project-PTP/32709392256.

BRECHT ON BRECHT begins previews July 11 for a July 18 opening and runs through August 4.

BRECHT ON BRECHT, adapted by George Tabori, celebrates one of the 20th century’s greatest dramatists in a stunning revue of his life’s work. Featuring songs and scenes from Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Bertolt Brecht’s most famous collaborations, as well as first-hand accounts from Brecht himself, BRECHT ON BRECHT explores the political and social issues the playwright faced as an artist fleeing Nazism for exile in America.

The cast for BRECHT ON BRECHT includes Harrison Bryan, Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy, Miguel Castillo, Olivia Christie, Sebastian LaPointe and Ashley Michelle.

The production team for BRECHT ON BRECHT includes Ronnie Romano (Music Director and Pianist), Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design) and Alex Williamson (Production Stage Manager).

The double bill of Howard Barker’s THE POSSIBILITIES and Caryl Churchill’s THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE begins previews July 10 for a July 17 opening and runs through August 5.

Four short plays explore actions unexplainable by logic or rationality. From the biblical Judith to Czar Alexander to a bookseller who hordes her stock for fear that knowledge may fall into the wrong hands to a woman whose dress is investigated by the state as a provocation to men: these four plays contain all of Howard Barker’s signature wit and complexity.

The cast for THE POSSIBILITIES includes Christopher Marshall (PTP: Pity In History, No End of Blame), Marianne Tatum (Broadway: The Three Musketeers & Barnum), Jonathan Tindle (PTP: Pity In History, Scenes from an Execution, No End of Blame), Kathleen Wise (PTP: Pity In History, Vinegar Tom), Adam Milano, Eliza Renner (PTP: Arcadia) and Madeleine Russell.

Told in 66 brief episodic scenes, the plot of THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE follows Selby, a young woman who quits her secretarial job to pursue her passion for ‘doing good.’ As a charity worker, she earnestly avoids political issues, only to discover the impossibility of this. “There’s something political in everything.”

The cast for THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE includes Tara Giordano (PTP: Vinegar Tom, Serious Money, Lovesong of the Electric Bear), Christo Grabowski (PTP: Pity In History, No End of Blame, Pentecost), Christopher Marshall, Jonathan Tindle, Lucy Van Atta (PTP: Serious Money, Spatter Pattern), Kathleen Wise, Roxy Adviento, Madeline Ciocci, Noah Liebmiller, Adam Milano, Eliza Renner and Madeleine Russell.

The production team for THE POSSIBILITIES and THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE includes Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design), Cormac Bluestone (Sound Design) and Devin Wein (Production Stage Manager). Animation Projection by Kyle Meredith for The After-Dinner Joke.

This season’s After Dark series will focus on the ‘temper of the times,’ performed and curated by long-time company members. Displacement, the plight of refugees and the exiled, the search for compassion – all link the trio of works. Events take place at The Atlantic Stage 2. Admission is free and reservations are recommended. To RSVP email PTPAfterDarks@gmail.com.

The After Dark line-up includes:

A reading of Bryan Reynolds’s RAILROAD (Thursday, July 19 at 9:45pm). A play of intense humanity, spiraling into the black hole of the Holocaust. Three families span four generations over two eras.

Howard Barker’s PLEVNA: Meditations on Hatred (Thursday – Saturday, July 26 – 28 at 9:45pm). A dramatic poem on the aftermath of the Siege of Plevna, a Turkish town taken by the Russians in 1877. Performed by Alex Draper and directed by Richard Romagnoli.

David Hare’s VIA DOLOROSA (Tuesday, July 31 & Friday, August 3 at 9:45pm) deals eloquently, compassionately and feelingly with most of the issues roiling Israel and Palestine. Performed by Jonathan Tindle.

PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) continues to redefine politically aware theatre for the 21st century by presenting theatrically complex and thought-provoking work of contemporary social and cultural relevance. Howard Barker is one of PTP/NYC’s most produced writers, along with Caryl Churchill, Neal Bell, Sarah Kane and David Edgar. The company’s writers are provocative, engaging and often confrontational.

PTP was founded in 1987 by the artistic team of Cheryl Faraone, Jim Petosa and Richard Romagnoli who continue to run the company. Alex Draper is Associate Artistic Director. Since moving to New York in 2007, PTP/NYC has produced 25 main stage productions and numerous late evening readings, workshops and experimental theatre pieces in their After Dark series. The company is committed to the training of young actors and designers, enabling them to work with experienced and generous professionals as they serve an apprenticeship and begin their own work in the theatre. PTP/NYC’s 2013 New York premiere of Howard Barker’s The Castle and 2008 production of Barker’s Scenes From An Execution each earned the late Jan Maxwell a Drama Desk Award nomination.

The New York Times says PTP/NYC “stands out amid the summer season’s fluff and fringiness as one to turn to for serious work.” The Village Voice states, “Every July, PTP/NYC presents a season of serious drama, a powerful burst of counter-programming to New York’s summer silliness. Since PTP moved to New York in 2007, its program at Atlantic Stage 2 has become one of the grounding moments of this city’s theater scene, with the ensemble focusing on stories of sociopolitical struggle—always thorny epics, always rich with language.” Huffington Post says, “Potomac Theatre Project bring intelligent, beautifully directed and performed fare to New York and we are so much luckier for it.” One Magazine states, “I can’t say enough about the dynamic, brilliant Potomac Theatre Project. Does it make a difference that these actors have known and worked with each other for years, and does that translate to the relationships onstage? Yes, it does. These actors are tremendous.”

Cheryl Faraone has been the Producing Artistic Director of PTP/NYC since 1986. Her directing credits in New York include Arcadia, Vinegar Tom, Serious Money, Pentecost, Lovesong of the Electric Bear, Territories, Crave, and The Politics of Passion: the Plays of Anthony Minghella. During PTP’s time in DC, she directed work by Caryl Churchill, Tom Stoppard and Shelagh Stephenson, among others.

Jim Petosa has been the Director of the Boston University School of Theatre since 2002. As one of three artistic directors for PTP/NYC, he has directed Good, Spatter Pattern, Therese Raquin, Monster, and Somewhere in the Pacific, among many others, for the company.

Richard Romagnoli is a co-founder and the co-Artistic Director of PTP/NYC. Since 2007, he has directed Howard Barker’s Pity In History, No End of Blame, Scenes from an Execution, Gertrude: The Cry, The Castle, Victory, Judith, The Europeans, Gary the Thief and Plevna in New York. During PTP’s time in the DC area, he directed Barker’s Scenes, A Hard Heart, The Possibilities, The Castle and No End of Blame, along with plays by Harold Pinter, Vaclav Havel, Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee.

The Atlantic Stage 2 is accessible from the A, C, E, L trains to 14 St./8 Ave. or the 1, 2, 3 trains to 14 St.

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