Warren Gerds/Review: “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” | WFRV Local 5

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FROM FATHER, Wis. (WFRV) – There are folk tales, and then there is “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” told by the inimitable Bertolt Brecht…through St. Norbert College Theater Arts.

At its heart is a story leading to a question: who deserves a child more, his biological mother or the woman whose care has been jeopardized?

The way Bertolt Brecht tells the story is through fantastic characters saying or singing or poetically embracing a thought or a character – through movement as well. His path is markedly different.

The St. Norbert College Theater Arts production is also very different. It is fueled by an impressive mastery of characters as well as a large dose of imagination.

Along the way, it’s clear that Bertolt Brecht isn’t much for bureaucracy, privileges, jurists, military, nobility and so on in a stinky laundry list. Thus: “I told you that I don’t have a good heart. I am an intellectual. Bertolt Brecht is also not shy about being rude to score a point, especially in the sexual spectrum.

The “Caucasian” in the title refers to a place: the Caucasus, a region along the eastern shore of the Black Sea. The story visits mountains and chasms and farms and a palace and an audience hall and a town square with a gallows, one with a filled noose.

Visually, the production is unique. All scene changing and set up is accomplished through the viewer’s imagination by means of 10 wooden platforms which are rolled and stacked and unstacked and rolled to more set up positions (in spirit ). The clothes people wear are folk – baggy, worn and generally chunky. Masks – pasty papier-mâché – are worn for certain characters.

The faculty’s April Beiswenger is the creative body’s visual genius. Noah Simon, a guest pro this school year, is refining a performance landscape that includes plenty of actors to take on. Prominent:

+ Graham Dunbar, as narrator/storyteller and sometimes characters in the story. He weaves his way through the aisles and around the stage, sometimes playing the guitar and most of the time giving free rein to Bertolt Brecht’s pithy thoughts on all sorts of hot topics.

+ Natalie Elfner, as a young woman who carries an abandoned baby boy through a multitude of desperate challenges posed by people and places, always using her wiles to stay one step ahead of fate.

+ Fiona Laffey, as a corrupt, voyeuristic judge – taking the job unqualified – whose rulings are akin to stops on the wheels of fortune, including one for momentous determination at the climax.

+ Steve Westergan (from the faculty), in high-energy roles that include a decadent clergyman and a fallen judge/serial killer.

All around, students respond to multiple roles in this captivating and captivating story with a chaotic view of what theater is all about. They seem fascinated by exploring the mindset of Bertolt Brecht – scary, brilliant and anti-authoritarian.

“The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is an experience and an adventure in concept and presentation.

Oh yes, it’s also a game within a game, although Bertolt Brecht never returns to the start, a diss about bureaucratic congestion.

***

Operating time: Two hours, 17 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. November 5; 2 p.m. November 6; 7:30 p.m. on November 10, 11 and 12. The November 6 performance will be followed by a discussion with the cast and crew.

Information: snc.edu/tickets

Creative: Playwright – Bertoldt Brecht, with translation by Alistair Beaton; director – Noah Simon; set designer – April Beiswenger; sound designer – Bruce Glassco; Technical Director – Brittney Fritz; stage manager – Jacinta Maslanka; assistant stage manager – Valeri Cohen; lighting assistant – Daphne Johnson; mask designer – Molly Kubica; master carpenter – Maria Miller; graphic designer – Maddy Brisbane; racing crew – Lily Wrangler, Peter Lim; fight choreographer – Greg Pragel; movement aid – André Megerdechian; motion captain – Jacinta Maslanka

Cast:

+ Arkady Chiadze, singer – Graham Dunbar

+ Grusha Vashnadze, a servant – Natalie Elfner

+ Azdak, the village scribe – Fiona Laffey

+ Georgi Abashvili, Governor of Grusinia – Benjamin Petropoulos

+ Natella Abashvili, the governor’s wife – Violet Hagen

+ Kazbeki, the fat prince – Kit Sanders-Mikkelson

+ Christopher Gureski – Simon Chachava, a soldier – Christopher Gureski

+ Shalva, the adjutant – Nathan Birch

+ Government expert – Jacqueline Stumpf

+ Jussup – William Mlenar

+ Jussup’s mother – Jordyn Otradovec

+ Shauva, a policeman – Janny Roberts

+ Farmer’s Wife – Kimberly Jaimes

+ A doctor, a lawyer – Steve Westergan

+ A soldier, a young woman – Kenan Wylie

+ Michael Abashvili – Molly Kubica

***

NEXT: Knight Theatre: “The 25e Annual Putnam County Musical Spelling Bee,” Jan. 26-29. Theater studies: “Antigone” by Sophocles, March 30-April 2.

THE PLACE: The 190-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theater is the smaller of two theaters in the Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College, 315 3rd Rue, De Pere. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is a one-of-a-kind pushing stage, meaning it is “pushed” into the audience space. Seating is on cloth seats in the college dark green color, with metal backs and wooden armrests. Handrails are placed in the stair aisles leading to the seats. Above we can see the “innards” of a theater for lighting and other technical needs. The production booth is on the second level above the audience entrance in a back corner. People in the front rows can practically reach out and touch the performers when they are on the lip of the stage. Any theater seat is close to the action. The space is busy year-round with community and campus productions.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb served as president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He previously headed St. Norbert’s psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of the Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in a plane crash in California during an act of sabotage by a disgruntled airline employee. This was shortly before the Fine Arts Hall was remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had many friends in the greater Green Bay community and reputation, so his name was used to raise money for the theater.

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