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REVIEWS John Rouse. Brecht and the West German Theatre: The Practice and Politics of Interpretation. Ann Arbor and London: UMI Research Press, 1989. Pp. xii + 223 + illus. $39.95. This is one of those rare studies whose existence seems indisputably justified since few would question Rouse's claim that Brecht was the most powerful influence on the new directions West German theater took from the 1960's on. The book's title previews its structure: the first part discusses Brecht's "interpretational model"; the second traces the impact of this model on West German theater. In describing Brecht's interpretational model, defined as "a system of dramaturgical and theatrical practices to be used in appropriately differing ways for the dialectical interpretation of individual plays, contemporary and historical" (p. 83), the author demonstrates how Brecht attempted as director at the Berliner Ensemble between his return from exile in 1948 and his death in 1956 to repair the stylistic, cultural, and ideological damage done to the stage by Third Reich aesthetics. Where theater controlled by Göring's ministry promoted bombastic rhetoric, Brecht strove to create a genuinely artistic dramatic language; where theater under the Nazis sought to conceal social causality, Brecht's chief goal was to reveal the dialectical inner workings of society in order to provoke social change. Although Rouse focuses on Brecht's postwar activity, he considers as well the changes which the dramatist's attitude toward the classics had undergone since the Weimar period. Brecht's rejection of classical texts for the stage in the 1920's evolved after the war into the conviction that such works can be made to speak to contemporary audiences if the proper theatrical style is found, and the majority of the plays produced at the Ensemble during Brecht's lifetime were historical. Thus most of Rouse's discussion, both of Brecht himself and of later directors, is devoted to the classical repertory. The author's general description of Brecht's principles and practices is followed by a chapter detailing the ways in which his "refunctioning" of Lenz's The Tutor in 1950 served to clarify the historical and economic background of the original late eighteenth-century text. The second half of Rouse's study distinguishes two main phases of Brecht's reception in West Germany, the first extending through the 1950's into the early 1960's, the next beginning in the mid-1960's with a transitional period of "aesthetic realism" in between. As examples of the first phase, during which, Rouse contends, directors adopted particular techniques from Brecht's work without taking over its critical potential, the author includes the Brecht plays directed in the fifties by Harry Buckwitz, Gustaf Gründgens' Faust I (1957), and Manfred Wekwerth and Joachim Tenschert's Coriolanus (1964). The following 293 294Comparative Drama chapter shows how the aesthetic realism of productions such as Peter Palitzsch's Arturo Ui (1964) and Peter Zadek's Spring Awakening (1965), which confronted and refunctioned Brechtian techniques yet stopped short of a commitment to social change, helped pave the way for the second phase of Brecht's impact in which a radical avant-garde "adopted the full critical potential of the model while reworking most of its specific techniques, sometimes beyond recognition" (p. 173). Rouse exemplifies this phase through close analyses of Hansgünther Heyme's Wallenstein (1969) and Peter Stein's Torquato Tasso (1969), tracing along the way the mediation of Brecht's influence through the directors Erwin Piscator and Fritz Kortner. A final chapter takes up two developments of the 1970's which were inspired by Brecht's model, the institutionalization of his dramaturgy, and the promotion of ensemble work. Rouse illustrates the first of these developments by comparing three West German productions of Sophocles' Antigone from the 1978-79 season. In dealing with individual plays Rouse treats set design as well as techniques of direction and dramaturgy and supports his analysis with numerous photographs. The book is also enriched by his inclusion of critical reactions to the productions as evidence of trends in taste. Most importantly in a study of Brecht, Rouse takes into account the political conditions shaping both the original texts and their twentieth...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 293-295
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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