Bertolt Brecht believed theater should move people to social action. And according to the Modernist playwright, emotionally entangling theater induces passivity; the audience member thinks she's produced social change without lifting a cheek from her theater seat.
In what's been coined Brecht's "Epic Theater," the playwright aims to create characters that actually alienate the audience, allowing them to reflect on what's happened in a purely intellectual context. (Incidentally, Brecht seems to have carried a certain disdain for emotion even into his personal life; he was buried in a steel coffin with a dagger through his heart.)
But Laura Tesman, director of the theater program at UCCS, believes Brecht created poignant characters in spite of himself. And she has embraced that power of emotion in Theatreworks' version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
With the help of a professional mask-maker, her student players created molds of their faces, then added clay, paper mch and paint. The result is a cast of big-nosed policemen and soldiers with surreal, sinister expressions.
"In a sea of masked faces," says Tesman, "the real face stands out."
Throughout the performance, the main character, Grusha, reveals her vulnerable visage to the menacing, masked figures. The story goes that the governor's wife has left her baby behind in the midst of a coup. Grusha finds the infant and takes him into the mountains. When the violence settles, the governor's wife tries to reclaim the child.
"As soon as you connect with Grusha's plight, then something comic happens, or something tragic happens," says Tesman. "It's constantly flipping on that edge between comic and tragic, which is life."
Caucasian Chalk Circle
Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive
April 19-28; Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Saturday matinees, 2 p.m., and Sunday matinee, 4 p.m.
Tickets: $10; call 262-3232 or visit uccstheatreworks.com.