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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 418-420

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Performance Review

Full Circle

Full Circle. By Charles Mee. American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 19 March 2000.

IMAGE LINK= Charles Mee's Full Circle is a political farce set in East Germany in 1989 inspired by Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. Mee's work is a collage combining elements from Brecht's play, pop culture (including two renditions of the disco hit "YMCA"), and the life and work of the dissident East German playwright Heiner Müller. Mee's most clearly articulated character, Müller serves as a figure for the play's central concern: the role and responsibility of the individual in the face of social revolution.

Mee has called the Caucasian Chalk Circle "romantic and naive," and sets about turning Brecht on his head, or, rather, attempting to teach him a lesson (not always successfully). Mee's play begins with a production by the Berliner Ensemble (run by Müller), which parallels and satirizes the prologue to Brecht's play. Following the production, attended and condemned by Party chief Erich Honecker, the revolution in the streets breaks into the theatre, leaving Honecker's baby in the hands of two women: a young revolutionary named Dulle Griet and American socialite Pamela Dalrymple (read: Harriman). The play follows the two women as they flee Berlin for the safety of the country, pursued by the two guards who will eventually capture them and return them to Berlin.

In Robert Woodruff's clearly directed, dense, and interesting production, the American Repertory Theatre resident company turned in strongly drawn performances. They work well as an ensemble and excel with this kind of text, flowing as it does from classical reference to contemporary idiom. Woodruff kept the production moving at a rapid pace and extracted all the humor from Mee's text. Furthermore, Woodruff's production succeeded at clearly communicating the script's many interconnected political ideas, which could easily have been lost. The set, designed by Riccardo Hernandez, was quite minimal; the use of curtains and backdrops to delimit playing space allowed the setting to adapt fluidly to each scene. When there were more scenic elements present, the stage took on a painterly quality, enhancing Woodruff's strong sense of visual composition. Catherine Zuber grouped her costumes into American designer chic, student revolutionary black, and peasant tawdry--visually clear, but rarely innovative.

The standout characters, both in dramaturgy and performance, were those based on real historical figures (although Mee has freely reinterpreted [End Page 418] them). As Pamela (Harriman) and Warren (Buffett), Mary Schultz and Stephen Rowe romped through the play, both criticizing the inefficiency of the East German state and seizing the opportunity of its breakdown for their personal gain. These characters emphasized Mee's belief that capitalism has already won in the new Germany and functioned to help us sympathize with what has been lost. Remo Airaldi and John Douglas Thompson turned in strong performances as the ex-Stasi guards charged with the baby's return, by turns innocent and wonderfully corrupt. As the committed revolutionary Dulle Griet (the Grusha role), Yugoslav actress Mirjana Jokovich delivered a strong, if sometimes strident, performance.

What made this work interesting is that a young, beautiful woman could be eclipsed by the actor playing dissolute playwright Heiner Müller: Will LeBow, in the standout role of his ART career. We first saw Müller groveling before the Party chief as he attempted to defend his production and his career to Honecker, and to himself. He then appeared much later in the play, lying on the floor of his jail cell. In one of the production's most interesting scenographic moments, Müller began a fifteen-minute monologue with the curtain raised only two feet off the stage; it slowly rose and allowed him to stand. Müller delivers extended speeches that are meditations on complicity and resistance, demonstrating how intertwined they can be. These speeches could have become leaden and long; LeBow's expert timing not only rendered them quite witty, but also clearly conveyed Mee's twisting strands of thought to the audience. Only in...


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