Theater Review: 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle'

The virtuoso cast Brecht our hearts when we’re not busting a gut laughing.

‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’
By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Rivka Meshulach
Directed by Udi Ben-Moshe
Music and arrangements
by Keren Peles
Cameri Theater, July 30
It would have been worth it just for the fugue in Act I – “She who hears a cry for help,” and then Azdak’s lusty “Why” in Act II, but this Chalk Circle is almost an embarrassment of riches. As in director Udi Ben-Moshe's equally substantial Good Woman of Setzuan last year, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is as Israeli as it is close to purist Brechtian; it has that extra soupcon of cheerful impudence.
In case there’s any doubt about Ben-Moshe’s intent, the inimitable Azdak, relished to a fare-thee-well by Shlomo Bar-Abba, tells us in the very first lines, “There was once a land – [sotto voce] not here – inhabited by two peoples – [sotto voce] not here – who fought for possession – [sotto voce] not here…”
Thus unfolds the tale of Grusha (Neta Garty), the servant maid who raises as her own the governor’s child abandoned when his mother flees, the tale of the rascally Azdak made judge as a joke, and the judgment of the chalk circle, for, as Brecht writes, “what there is shall go to those that are good for it … and the land to the waterers that it bring forth fruit.”
Let’s get this niggle out of the way. Every once in a while Keren Peles’s musical numbers unnecessarily impede the flow of the narrative. One or two could and should have been edited out, splendid though they are.
That said, this Chalk Circle is a banquet for the eyes, the ears and – oh, most certainly – the mind. Garty as Grusha and Udi Rothschild as her soldier lover, Simon, utterly engage. Their playfulness, their innocence, their intrinsic goodness, their suffering and their joys provide the production’s needed emotional intensity, while acting as anchor and counterpoint to the cruelty and the clowning.
Also outstanding are Lior Zohar, Shlomi Avraham and Ruby Moskovitz in their various clown roles, each subtly different from the other. They and the rest of the virtuoso cast Brecht our hearts when we’re not busting a gut laughing.