Brecht’s ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ Opens at Antaeus Theatre

The Antaeus Theatre Company has gone through many transformations since its inception in 1991. After having relocated to its Glendale, CA location in 2017, it’s continued to present diverse, daring, and sometimes controversial productions, including Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” Tennessee Williams’ “Cat On a Hot Tin Roof,” Patrick Marber’s “Three Days in the Country,” and Harold Pinter’s almost-forgotten masterpiece “The Hothouse.”

Next up for the venerable collective is Bertolt Brecht’s 1944 comedic musical play within a play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Translated from its original German by Brecht’s friend Eric Bentley and inspired by both Brecht’s 1940 short story Der Augsburger Kreidekreis and “The Chalk Circle,” a Chinese play from the 14th century, the musical parable concerns a poor girl named Grusha who finds a baby born of noble lineage. Grusha protects him through years of post–World War II political madness in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, until his mother comes back and demands his return, putting to trial the traditions of class and social structure that have ruled thus far.

“The questions of who and what are best suited for a necessary purpose are rife with contradiction,” director Stephanie Shroyer says. “There are always two sides to a story. Brecht’s ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ takes two sides and places them in his circle so that the spectator is charged with pulling the ‘right’ answer out. The contrariness of human nature makes the effort less than clear for those of us on the circumference.”

The Antaeus intends to present a contemporary version of the show, translated by Scottish satirist Alistair Beaton and directed by Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award winner Shroyer, that will feature original music and songs to be performed by the actors. Brecht wrote songs into the text but there is no original score.

Part of what Brecht called “epic theater,” “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” applies to his Verfremdungs-effekt (“alienation effect”) in which he utilized techniques to jar audiences out of the story on stage and to remember that they are, indeed, “watching an enactment of reality instead of reality itself.” He wanted theatergoers to not just be entertained but to think, and hoped his works would bring about some sort of change socially.

And that is precisely in line with the productions the Antaeus Theatre Company takes on. They thrive with incisive, moving, and challenging material, and their ensemble of actors, the directors, the set designers, and the lighting designers consistently rise to the occasion. “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is poised to be another thought-provoking night at the theater.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle” opens July 11 and runs through Aug. 26 at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale, CA.