The ‘bible belt’ has never really presented itself as the ideal environment for thought provoking spectacles. This statement is not meant as a passage of judgment. This region could benefit immensely from life changing theatre. Yet, often times, people here limit themselves to the scope of their own comfortableness. They do not like to be challenged. This is a place where every type of soda is referred to as “coke.” This is a place where no one expects to encounter Brecht or his ideas. To this end, I must commend Dr. Wayne Chapman and the theatre department at UALR for ambitiously undertaking “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.”
In this play, which readers of this blog are undoubtedly familiar with, the audience is given a show which challenges their political and moral standards. I hadn’t really thought about just how difficult the actual staging of this play could be. Though, UALR handled the technical challenges of this production with sheer proficiency, if not aplomb. The set design, a large series of scaffolding, served as a centerpiece which resembled a post-industrial playhouse. This concept may very well have influenced the joviality of the performances on stage, as well as the production concept. The assurance that there was very little to work with set wise, allowed the actors to really play out the epic without fear of having it seem “too real.”
This idea of acting for the epic theatre was one that I was particularly curious about upon entering the auditorium. Though, this had clearly been taken into account by Dr. Chapman, and after the first scene my trepidation was all but gone. The only qualms I had with the acting—and this is completely acceptable considering the varied levels of performance training—was the hit and miss vocal projection. Personally, I enjoy sitting towards the back of the house when seeing a play, and in this case, it was a bit of a mistake. Aside from this though, I once again must commend the ability of the performers to tell the story without risking emotional attachment to their characters.
The cutting and re-interpretation of this play didn’t sit incredibly well with me however. For instance, the exclusion of the prologue somewhat eliminated the coveted “play-within-a-play” concept. And the use of the location “the gulf” did absolutely nothing but confuse me. It was as if I was expected to reflect on a far-off/maybe near-by place in which conflict was ensuing. While I do see how and why this was set in place, I do feel that it directed my attention away from the story. Where they still talking of Persia, I would have been able to stay focused on the action and story, from a distanced perspective, and still possess the faculties to make connections between the relevant struggles in the world. This is to say, the concepts of war and corruption will still endure. They need not be made more accessible through a vague ‘localization’ for accessibility sake. The same can also be said of the choice to change piasters to dollars. Cuts and changes like these shifted my focus from the story, in favor of curiosity about where these people were and how it played into the story’s meaning.
All in all, I greatly enjoyed the production, and am actually excited to know that the theatre department will encourage its budding artists to take chances. Risk taking is such an important part of the creative process, just as Beckett said “Fail. Fail better. Fail again.” With this production, confused audience members should be glad that they are confused. They should sit with this material and discuss it with their families or dates, or whomever. And, moreover, this audience member has realized the power of a play to be presented as its author wrote it. Though I do think that Chapman and Co, have done an excellent job in introducing the newbies to the awesomeness of Brecht.