Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pipeline Theatre Company's Caucasian Chalk Circle Is Not To Be Missed

By Byrne Harrison

The Pipeline Theatre Company is mounting a vibrant and exciting production of Bertolt Brecht's socialist fairy-tale, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, at Theater for the New City in the East Village. The production is a must for anyone who wants to see Brecht done well.

Told as a play within a play, Chalk Circle begins with two groups of peasants that each claim possession of a valley - one group was driven from the valley during the war, but holds the legal title; the other group fought an invading army and has great plans to farm the land. Eventually, the group that holds title to the land relinquishes it to the farmers, realizing that land, and all possessions, should go to those who will make the most of them.

The matter settled, a great celebration begins and a visiting Singer (Michael R. Piazza), quite famous in the region, begins to tell an ancient Chinese fable, The Chalk Circle, one that he believes has particular bearing on the situation.

As he spins the tale, the villagers become characters in the story of a time of civil war and the young servant girl, Grusha (Maura Hooper), who finds herself caring for the son of her employers, the Governor (Alex Mills), who was murdered, and his vain and spoiled wife (Jacquelyn Landgraf), who left the baby behind when she fled. On the run from the murderous Prince and his Ironshirts, Grusha sacrifices everything she has, even risking the relationship she has with her betrothed, Simon (Ronald Peet), one of the Governor's soldiers.

After the defeat of the Prince, the Governor's wife returns for her child, which Grusha has raised as her own, and the two parties have to petition for custody of the child. The judge, Azdak (Gil Zabarsky), a fraud and drunk who was elevated to this position during the chaos, devises a Solomon-like test to see who deserves the child, the biological mother who abandoned him, or the woman who always had his best interests at heart.

Adeptly directed by Anya Saffir, the production features an outstanding cast, with particular praise going to Maura Hooper, Gil Zabarsky, Michael R. Piazza and Jacquelyn Landgraf. Zabarsky is marvelous as the Robin Hood-like Azdak, and works extremely well with Hooper and Landgraf in the final "chalk circle" scenes of the play.

Eric Southern's set and lighting design is excellent and really complements the play. His set, like a hastily abandoned warehouse, left with only odds and ends, works so well in the opening scene of the play between the peasants, and gives the actors so much to work with during the rest of the show.

Cormac Bluestone's music for the show is a treat, and Piazza proves himself adept at making the most of it.

Despite the size of the house at the Joyce and Seward Johnson Theater at Theater for the New City, the performances have been selling out, so make a reservation and see this wonderful production.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle
By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Eric Bentley
Directed by Anya Saffir
Music by Cormac Bluestone
Assistant Director: Theo Wilson
Producers: Arielle Siegel, Nicole Spiezio
Stage Manager: Jessika Doyel
Set and Lighting Design: Eric Southern
Costume Design: Katja Andreiev
Choreography: Alison Beatty
Fight Choreography: Turner Smith
Prop Design: Zealan Salemi
Graphic Design: Ryan Pointer
Puppet Design: Katey Parker
Projection Design: Steve Girard
Assistant Producer: Jenny Donheiser
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca Schoffer
Assistant Set Design: Sam Dash, Jon Herman
Assistant Lighting Design: Marika Kent
Music Captain: Charley Layton
Production Intern: Rosemary Shemesh
House Manager: Kelsey Mills
Marketing: Katelyn Manfre, John Early, Sydney Matthews, Heather Morris, Marisol Sacramento

Featuring: Ronald Peet, Maura Hooper, Glenn Hergenhahn, John Early, ChloƩ Wepper, Sam Dash, Joyce Miller, Vladimir Margolin, Jacquelyn Landgraf, Gil Zabarsky, Sydney Matthews, Daniel Johnsen, Alex Mills, Matthew Hanson, Michael R. Piazza, Charley Layton, Marek Sapievski, Brian Maxsween

Theater for the New City
155 First Ave (between 9th & 10th Streets)

March 5-19
Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Saturday March 19th at 2pm & 8pm

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