Celebrating 40 Years of Brecht

Brecht on Brecht Image

“When the world was silent … Brecht spoke.” The 1973 off-Broadway hit “Brecht on Brecht” is back in full force at the Atwater Playhouse through June 9. It is the 40th anniversary production of the play and two of the original cast members and the original director are back with some new numbers. The play is an homage and exploration of the philosophy and works of Bertolt Brecht, the famous German poet, playwright and Marxist.

Written by George Tabori, the production is formed from a collection of multi-media segments that directors are encouraged to select and arrange as they see fit for each production. The result is a “collage of poems, songs, scenes and images” based on the life and works of Brecht, said Susan Kussman, one of the returning original cast members. The original production was brought to the stage by the Scorpio Rising Theatre under the direction of Alistair Hunter in ’73. Forty years later, Hunter has made some additions for the anniversary production such as adding a slideshow and a new musical number.

Themes of ideology, oppression, revolt and human nature are at the heart of “Brecht on Brecht,” as was at the heart of Brecht’s struggle to give a voice to those who had none. For this production, the director has organized the pieces from Tabori’s script to chronologically represent the story of Brecht’s life.

“He trumpeted the common man,” said Kussman. “Audience members come out of the play feeling excited and ready to go into action.”

Brecht was forced to flee his German home in 1933 after finding himself in fifth place on Hitler’s death list for speaking out against the regime. He came to live in Santa Monica for six years, making friends with many of Hollywood’s elite performers and directors who were then later suspected of being communist. This led to Brecht himself being called before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. What ensued is both profound and hilarious as Brecht defends himself while simultaneously poking fun at his captors. Highlights from the original recording of his testimony are played during key moments of “Brecht on Brecht.”

The two female cast members from the production, BeLinda Howell and Susan Kussman, have been friends for over a decade working together to bring theater to a new generation. Together they helped form The Stepping Stone Players, a local theater group for all ages based in Glendale. Howell, along with a group of moms concerned about the quality of arts programs in their local schools, formed the group with Kussman sitting in the director’s chair for their first production at Hoover High School. Together they have worked in the Glendale area since 2000 to give young people more of a chance to practice theater in a professional setting. Many of their young actors and backstage workers are from the La Crescenta area as well. Thirteen  years since its creation, the group is still going strong and is currently preparing for its summer musical “Oliver!” which opens on Aug. 2.

The anniversary production of “Brecht on Brecht” is nearing the end of its run and has received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

“The show is both an intellectual and emotional journey,” said Howell. “It’s one of the very few plays for me that has been a true ensemble.” Throughout the production the five actors change characters often and the themes presented can be dark one moment and hilarious the next.

“We are all in some ways voices of Brecht,” Howell added.

“Brecht on Brecht” plays each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and will have six more performances before closing: May 31, June 1, June 2 and June 7-9.

Those interested in attending can visit www.Plays411.com/brecht for information about show times and tickets. Those interested in getting involved with The Stepping Stone Players can visit www.steppingstoneplayers.com.