Wednesday, June 6, 2007

St Joan of the Stockyards.

After reading Martin Esslin’s synopsis of St Joan of the Stockyards (in the Brecht Biography I was recently so inspired by) I had ideas for adapting it. Taking Brecht’s play and making it in my style, with my message attached. His play is about violence over morality and reform, my play will be about creative construction over violence. His play is cut up into many short scenes with songs, poetic language and clear-cut easy-to-interpret, totally didactic content. My play will be one or two long scenes, full of ambiguity and pushing the audience to teach themselves, rather than trying to simply teach the audience.

So, I got a hold of a copy of St Joan of the Stockyards. I like it more than the other Brecht I’ve read, in spite of the poetry and propagandisticness. There's a great scene where Joan, the naive idealist protagonist, relizes that she shoulda helped the militant communists and that her religious charity organization is corrupt. She has this speech about smashing people's heads into the concrete until they are crushed, it's so violent and unexpected from this character, very nice.

I'm thinking about how to adapt it, and have two ideas.

Half of me wants to set it in palestine with the Black Straw Hats (religious charity) replaced by Hamas, so the religion is supporting violence and Joan breaks away to support art. Trouble with that is, the original is about stock exchange prices, and exposes the inherent flaws of capitalism really well (y'know the 'burn half the stock so the supply goes down, and prices can go up so we sell the other half to these starving people for more than double the price.') and i don't know how that would play out in a Palestine setting. i feel like there'd be too much going on, or it would stop being about that and istead be about bullshit like land rights and religiousness.

The other half of me wants to build a crazy set where the stockyards are underneath the stock exchange and there's a cast of over 100, most of whom are standing underneath and holding up the floor of the stock exchange. (so, this isn't going to be our easy-to-tour-with show, obviously) the trouble with that is, well, it's kind logistically nigh impossible, but it would make a great spectacle. I'm all for spectacle theatre. I think spectacle works better than alienation effect. You've gotta wow the audience a little bit and before they'll get interested in the artifice of the theatre.


andy gricevich said...

Hey, thanks for the compliments! We loved performing at Darling Hall.

St. Joan might be my favorite Brecht play. I think if you sit with it for awhile (and with his work in general), you'll find a lot more subtlety, more unresolved contradictions and inexplicable human behavior. Even the plays that seem like blatant Communist Party pieces ("The Measures Taken," for instance) turn out to be pretty damn weird on second, third, fourth readings. The guy never fell into pure agitprop, with the exception of a few poems from the 'thirties (and the poems are worth looking at, too--get the Poems 1913-1956; none of the other translations are any good, or include anything like the variety.

I think the verse in St. Joan is actually very helpful.

And the Pierpont Mauler character is really the center, as far as I'm concerned. I don't think you can boil his actions down to either selfish motivation, class interest, impersonal social forces or pangs of conscience. He's somewhere in the nexus of all these things. In terms of its art, and roughly chronologically, this play comes between the early stuff ("Jungle of Cities" being my favorite), where the characters are "impossible," doing strange things for mysterious reasons, and the stripped-down "teaching plays" that eradicate character almost entirely, focusing instead on ethical and political questions that seem very clear until you notice that Brecht's dialectical methods always open up a space in which you can preserve the difficulty of the questions or disagree with what seem to be his conclusions, when you can tell what they are. Anyway, I think Mauler is worth further study--a character for whom subjective experience isn't a matter of personal depth, but of a bunch of different surfaces that interact with, or reflect, other surfaces (economics, the experience of others, etc.). Don't know if that makes any sense... but I think it's a fascinating picture of human beings as complex and dynamic systems for whom "inside" and "outside" are always shifting... and the artifice of the poetic language (the shift in and out of it, in fact) lets us see this by its difference from the languages of literary psychology, economics, realism, etc. It needs to be stylistically distinct from those so that we can look at their interactions without falling exclusively into one or the other.



R. Winsome said...

Thanks for posting! You're totally right about Mauler, and about Brecht.

One really can't help sympathizing with Mauler somewhat, in spite of Brecht's intentions. It makes me wonder about Brecht. Did his characters end up sympathetic and his audiences get pulled into catharsis and suspense against his wishes? Or was the alienation effect a big con he pulled on everyone? Or is it both, and he was conning himself? The more you try to make one thing happen the easier it is for the opposite to happen. But, then i guess that's kinda how dialectics work, eh?

The play isn't exactly what i expected when i read about it, i'm not sure if my adaptation idea will work, but it's causing other gears to spin. It definitely needs another reading or two before i can settle on an angle, or decide to scrap the idea.

Anonymous said...

something for you to describes the brechtian alienation....