The first plays in our Brecht in the Park series will be The Elephant Calf (1926), In Search of Justice (1938) and The Exception and the Rule (1929). Each of the three short plays is connected by the motif of a courtroom drama, where society’s rules are examined and one is judged based on those rules.
In The Elephant Calf, a man is presumed guilty based on his appearance. In this “play within a play,” he is assigned the role of a guilty man, and a kangaroo court is called to session to prove what has already been assumed by all at the trial. We see a direct parallel in the current NYPD’s disastrous Stop and Frisk policy. By clearly pinpointing the absurdity of racial profiling, it becomes clear that the practice makes no sense. But as Brecht says in the opening of this farce, “If you want to see something that makes sense, go to the urinal.”
Citizens United has opened up the floodgates of corruption into our political process, allowing corporations and special interests to anonymously funnel unlimited funds to our government officials. In Search of Justice questions what happens when a corrupt judge must choose between two special interests, sending an innocent man to jail. The people on trial are nothing more than playthings to the judge and the special interests, which we will highlight by turning the courtroom into a puppet show, exposing the absurdity behind the law.
The nation was riveted by the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed young man, by George Zimmerman, who shot Mr. Martin because he felt threatened. The shooting is being defended under the controversial Stand Your Ground law. As early as 1929, Brecht was asking the questions we ask today when we discuss Stand Your Ground. Does a man have the right to shoot another man if he fears him? Is fear enough to justify killing? And why would a man with power fear a man who has none? The Exception and the Rule brings these themes to life in a moving story that we’ll tell with masks and movement.
In discussing the writing of these three plays by Brecht and her reasons for putting on free performances in Central Park, the production’s director Aimee Todoroff says, “Most plays aim to lull the audience into a suspension of disbelief, to distract us from reality and take us into a world of imagination. With Brecht, the transaction is reversed. Often, Brecht takes the imaginary life of the audience as the starting point, and moves towards the real world, drawing attention to our lives and the world we live in. This is an age of distraction; of smart phones and Twitter, of elaborate CGI movies and television shows available on DVR. In such an era, the era of the shortened attention span, it is imperative that artists draw focus onto the real, and to invite the audience to examine the world we live in with care and with critical thinking.
“When I first read these three plays, my jaw dropped. These plays, written between 1926 and 1938, could have been pulled from the stories told by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and because of this we are framing the production in an aesthetic that recalls the early Occupy protests in Zuccotti Park.
“I’ve always wanted to take Brecht to the people. There is no better way to bring a play to the public than to perform it, for free, in a public space. Anyone is welcome to attend, to wander in and stay for one section or (hopefully) for the entire show. But I specifically wanted to perform Brecht in the northern section of Central Park because this often ignored area connects the neighborhoods of South Harlem, Morningside and the Upper West Side, bringing together a diverse cross-section of the populace of NYC. The themes examined within the plays -- social justice, class structure, oppression and the futility of existing within a broken system -- carry a particular resonance for these neighborhoods as well.”
Mel House in rehearsal as the Carrier in Brecht in the Park, wearing a top-of-the-head mask by Joe Osheroff. Photo by Aimee Todoroff.
Elephant Run District is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit devoted to challenging expectations, inspiring dialogue in our community and creating long-lasting memories. Elephant Run seeks to entertain its audiences while addressing issues that affect our society.
The Elephant Calf, the Exception and the Rule, and In Search of Justice are presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc.