It is a shame that this play is not further realized for its political implications. Outside of study groups, I am curious as to whether people simply take the actions, songs, and messages at face value; or if they are more hungry for meaning. While it seems that the point would be hard to miss, I was myself surprised that it took much prodding—even for me—to really get to the meat and meaning of this play.
It is true, as previously discussed, that the blatant use of deus ex machina does much to drive home the point that: No, this is not reality. Yet, in the build up to Mac’s execution I can’t help but feel like Brecht and Co. have played with the audience a bit; goading them into caring about Mac’s fate. (What will happen if he’s really hanged?! Who will ultimately ‘win’? What about poor Polly? So on and so forth…) With that in mind, the second to last scene of this play almost leans towards the Aristotelian tradition; even despite its use of alienation through song.
It is for this reason that I believe audiences, original and present, tend to gloss over the rather heavy-handed social messages of the piece. Granted, the end will leave us all wondering why the particular choices were made; but what of the people who are involved? They seek forgiveness, and they just want to survive and thrive. What’s to stop them from doing so? What’s to stop us? When everyone is looking for enjoyment in their lives, what is to stand in the way of getting it no matter the consequence. Should audiences be made to feel guilty for attending the theatre? Is an enjoyable spectacle a privilege we should feel guilty for partaking in? These are all questions that arise for me when considering the success of this play.
On Amazon.com, the 1997 cast recording is ranked number 13 of all “Broadway & Vocalists” as well as number 23 for all “Movie Soundtracks.” This is a fact that would either make Brecht turn in his grave or laugh. However; I’m fairly certain that the former is the case. I cannot understand how this direct commentary has been turned into an entertainment. Though I do believe that civilized society has taken a shift. Rather than identifying the abhorrent traits within the criminal bourgeoisie depicted in this play, ticket holders now distance themselves, and identify with the comedy and empathy that they are used to as theatre going audiences. (Imagine the tourists hitting the Broadway strip, who only a day earlier took in “The Lion King” with the kids, only to slip out the next night for an adult show such as “Threepenny.”) These audience members will leave the theatre, through the gift-shop, and buy the soundtrack; perhaps even a t-shirt. This was not the aim.
All we can hope for is that those who have effectively ‘bought into’ “Threepenny” have a chance to reflect in what it means down the line. Who’s to say if it will ever change them, or really affect them. But, just as Brecht called this work one of his greatest failures; we cannot overlook the fact that it helped him pay the rent. Was this an instance of selling out? Was Brecht Mr. Peachum, or did the war and his exile serve as the messenger on a horse which allowed him to write his greatest plays?