As a young actor I was once told to never apologize before a performance was over. If an infraction, or accident occurred—one which proved to be wholly detrimental to the production in progress—perhaps then, and only then, would it be acceptable. And even still, after wards. Another one of the lessons that was beaten into me at a fairly early juncture was to never insult one's audience...unless it is through “bawdy humor.” But as we all know, a joke that falls flat is somewhat of an insult in its own right.
Throughout the first act of Brecht's “Threepenny Opera” we are given a healthy dose of the bawdy. So much so, that I can hardly imagine the original actors of this play being coached into telling the elite of Weimar Germany that: “Life is poor, and man's a shit.” To me, a student living some 80 years later, this statement is as funny as it is poignant. Considering the subject matter of poverty, both in general, and especially in post WWI Germany, the context of “The First Finale Concerning the Insecurity of the Human Condition,” gives us a lot to think about. Namely, well, our own insecurities. Are we indeed shit? In a sense, yes, it would seem so. But why?
The Peachums may be our most important key to understanding this notion. Here we have a family whose business is poverty. Their very livelihood is contingent on ensuring that those who “have not” come consult Mr. Peachum before even trying to “have,” and even still, for a price. With this Brecht automatically has dispelled any possibility for an apology to audiences. Instead, he chose to show us deplorable wretches, just being themselves. Thus we are left to wonder what it is that has made them this so terrible. With this in mind it is easy to see just how this would be received by the upper echelons (such as the subsequent banning of the play by the Nazis only a few years later).
Yet, it is quite fascinating to reflect on just how this modern classic became a classic. How, among the likes of so many other transcendental plays, the enduring themes of class struggles and interpersonal conflicts come into play when there's something to be gained seems like an astonishing feat. Though, as we know, Brecht was well ahead of his time in choosing to adapt Gay's “The Beggar's Opera.”
I am eager to continue reading this play with the new understandings that are being forged in regards to historical context. And any Doubters may rest assured that my curiosity in this opera and its tactics will continue to be explored. Henceforth, I will not apologize for this incomplete analysis. The show is not over yet. Not on the page and not in my mind.