“Brecht on Brecht” cabaret displays the radical playwright and poet’s passion

By Lucy Komisar

I know Brecht through his iconic plays, “Mother Courage,” “The Threepenny Opera” and more. But I hadn’t heard his poetry, which was often more directly political than the allegorical stage works. In “Brecht on Brecht,” the TBTB company at the A.R.T./New York Theatre on West 53rd Street provides those words in an entertaining cabaret style pastiche of talk and song that takes one through his political life and artistic career.

Dionne McClain-Freeney, Scott Barton, Sean Phillips, Ann Marie Morelli, Anita Hollander, Stephen Drabicki, Fareeda Pyracha Ahmed, Pamela Sabaugh, and Ann Flanigan. Photo Carol Rosegg.

One poem is about the workers who built the world’s great palaces to celebrate the triumph of the great, “but who else?” His poems have names such as the satirical “Honored Murderer of the People,” “War Has Been Given a Bad Name, “and, representing the left unity against Hitler, the “United Front Song.”

There are video snippets of his 1947 testimony before HUAC (the misnamed House Un-American Activities Committee) where he was interrogated about his left-wing views.

Brecht would explain that his poems, songs and plays were written in the fight against Hitler and “can be considered as revolutionary, because I was for the overthrow of that government.” He had, of course, come to America to escape the Nazis, but found the fascist mentality alive and well on Capitol Hill.

The production made Brecht come alive for me as a person, not just a playwright.

Anita Hollander. Photo Carol Rosegg.

There are a couple of very good performers, especially Sean Phillips, with a theatrical presence that promises we will see more of him, Anita Hollander with a fine lilting voice, and Pamela Sabaugh belting out a terrific “Surabaya Johnny.”

Sean Phillips. Photo Carol Rosegg.

The main problem is occasionally the narrative, which is sometimes disjoined, sections connected by projected titles which don’t set the stage enough and a few stories that go on too long.

The title of the company comes from the fact that some of the members are disabled, though that didn’t seem to affect their movement, and certainly not their voices.

“Brecht on Brecht.” Theater Breaking Through Barriers. Written by Bertolt Brecht as arranged by George Tabori. Directed by Nicholas Viselli, Musical director Dionne McClain-Freeney. The A.R.T./New York Theatre, 502 West 53rd Street, New York City. 100 minutes, no intermission. All the text is projected. For tickets. Opened Oct 28, 2021, closes Nov 20, 2021. See review on New York Theatre Wire.

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