Man is Man

Does it really take a war for New York theater artists to remember Brecht? We hardly needed a reason to pay some attention to the 20th century’s greatest dramatist, and certainly not one as costly the debacle in Iraq. In any event, the current climate has inspired a new generation to try their hand at the “alienation effect,” including a group of recent NYU/Tisch students called the Elephant Brigade, who are performing Man is Man at HERE. Fetchingly dressed in an assortment of military fatigues, they make an attractive group but their aesthetic choices end up making Brecht look bad.

The story, set in a Kiplingesque colonial India, concerns the transformation of humble porter Galy Gay into a robotic killing machine. This production suffers under a philosophy that Dutch director Paul Bellerts calls “real time” acting. According to the program, this approach is based on “the presence of the actors as themselves,” which unfortunately means that the cast comes off looking like a bunch of really earnest kids, excited by their own experimentalism (like the use of live video projections and remote-controlled tanks). The play may argue that mechanized warfare has made individuals virtually interchangeable, but Brecht’s dramaturgy of gestus demands great physical specificity from the actors in order to make Galy’s transition meaningful. (Brecht reportedly envisioned one of his favorite comedians, Charlie Chaplin, in the role.) Natalie Kuhn, as Galy, and her castmates speak most of the play’s lines in “natural,” uninflected tones and walk nonchalantly around the stage as if posing for a low-key Gap ad. These young Brechtians have yet to discover the fierce artistic clarity required to make his plays truly effective; meanwhile, the rest of us have yet to discover how we can bring this maddening war to an end.



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