Studio 58The Caucasian Chalk Circle
by Bertolt Brecht
Studio 58, Langara College
Reviewer: Jane Penistan
Studio 58 opens its 2003-2004 season with a colourful and musical production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. This is a brave beginning to a new season and one which immediately asserts the strength of the present class of acting students.
Brecht's powerful plays have large casts and many scenes. In this case there is much music to be included in its production. Not only are instrumentalists required, singers also, have a considerable part to play. Noah Drew has written interesting ethnic sounding compositions for both instrumentalists and singers, who perform throughout. The ensemble singing of the cast and that of the soloists is of a high calibre, while the incidental music adds much to the atmosphere of revolution and rebellion, or peace and loneliness in the mountains. The singers are also narrators, linking the changing scenes as the story unfolds.
Opening with a prologue, in which the future of the agriculture of a fertile valley is promulgated by the ruling bureaucrats of the city, and opposed by the local farming community, the history of the revolution and its resolution becomes the centre of the work, with the epilogue rounding out the evening.
At first the stage looks bare and shabby, but those solid looking, peeling pillars are transformed by projections into mountain views with tumbling waterfalls or palace gates and grounds. The lighting and sound enhance the varying changes of time and place.
Only one member of the talented cast plays one role, Natalie Kardum competently and sympathetically presents Grusha, the unwilling kitchen maid who rescues the abandoned son of the executed governor, and through many trials and painful journeys, ultimately wins the custody of the young child and is reunited with her soldier betrothed, Simon Chachava (Nathan Schwartz, who also plays the Grand Duke). Josh Epstein and Kyle Rideout are the more noticeable men, all of whom change characters and costumes with flawless efficiency. Several of the women, who all have many roles, are transformed from soldiers to young or elderly women in the beat of a drum.
Not only do these actors sing, four of them comprise the orchestra, the outstanding pianist Lara Gilchrist, and saxophone, guitar and clarinet players, Josh Epstein, Nathan Schwartz and Natalie Kardum.
Like all Brecht's work The Caucasian Chalk Circle is trying to make the world a better place for better people, but here there is an unusual happy ending in the judicial granting of the child to Grusha, who is reunited with her soldier fiancé, Simon. However, the epilogue is not as optimistic, and leaves the future of the valley in doubt.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle runs at Studio 58, Langara College, 100 W. 49th Avenue, at 8.00 p.m. Wednesday - Sunday, with Sunday matinees at 3.00 p.m. September 25 - October 19, 2003. For more information, tickets and reservations please contact the Festival Box Office at 604-257-0366 or visit www.langara.bc.ca/studio58.
© 2003, Jane Penistan