You know you are in for a wild ride when the characters excuse us if we can’t follow the plot. The Classic Stage Company’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s A Man does just that. Beginning with a simple story- telling delivery, the play disguises evil as good. Through this, the audience later comes to understand how good and evil are relative to circumstance. With the direction of Brian Kulick and the set design of Paul Steinberg, this ensemble work takes life with a surreal style, engaging the audience early on with a pseudo-Monty Python absurdity. Duncan Sheik’s music adds a mild comic feel to some of the scenes but in general the music feels forced and does not lend itself to the story in a symbiotic fashion.
The piece centers around four soldiers. The seemingly heroic troupe is comprised of Polly Baker (Jason Babinsky), Jesse Mahoney (Steven Skybell), Uriah Shelley (Martin Moran) and Jeraiah Jip (Andrew Weems). Working in perfect harmony with one another, Babinsky, Skybell, Moran and Weems immediately convince the audience their character’s actions are wholesome and necessary. They blind the audience to all of the immoral circumstances through the pure spirit of innocence they bring to the stage.
Widow Begbick (Justin Vivian Bond) is the “flow” of the show. Bond arrives on the scene oozing charisma and keeps it strong even as the show takes a darker turn. Galy Gay (Gibson Frazier), our victim, embodies the medium for Brecht’s commentary on the human personality’s malleability. Frazier delivers the character arch from feeble to domineering with flawless ease, highlighting Galy’s instability along the way. The ensemble rounds out with Bloody Five (Stephen Spinella), Mr. Wang (Ching Valdes-Aran) and a versatile chorus of one (Allan K Washington). Spinella lets us squirm in our seats as he delivers passion-filled eulogy after eulogy about the shortcomings and weaknesses of his men, eventually pointing the finger at himself. Valdes-Aran convincingly fools the audience into believing Mr. Wang is not worthy of compassion. Washington is a great addition to many of the scenes, adding a wonderful comic element early on.
As the show progresses, we see increasingly sinister versions of our soldiers, allowing each audience member to decide when they feel the soldier’s actions have gone too far. Eventually, the audience is shown the effect outside forces can have on a personality. It could be argued that Brecht’s piece, written in the 1920’s, foreshadows the rise of the Nazi party. In the end, the audience is left in an uncomfortable state to contemplate how easily a personality can change from light to dark.Though at times the show is difficult to follow, the overall theme is a poignant reminder of the importance of our identity. The production promises to elicit some laughs early on but leave you with a thoughtful vigil on your way home.
Photos By: Richard Termine
Review By: Paul Morin