Apr 3, 2014

Full Circle

One reason I was so disappointed by Classic Stage Company's muddled, soporific staging of Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle last year was that two of the most formative theatergoing experiences of my life have been adaptations of that difficult, sprawling political fable: Cornerstone's Central Avenue Chalk Circle in 1995, in which playwright Lynn Manning reset the action in a near-future dystopian California, and Bill Rauch staged it all around a former union hall in Watts, with a deftly interwoven cast of pros and non-pros, a live band, several memorable coups de theatres, and a palpable sense of immediacy and locality that, of course, put audiences directly in touch with Brecht's original themes of justice, avarice, and compassion.

The other, in 2000, was Chuck Mee's ambitious, seriously playful The Berlin Circle, which confronted head-on the bitter, double-edged irony that the communist "republic" Brecht had made his home had crumbled along with the joyously dismantled Berlin Wall, and Western liberalism, both economic and political, had accordingly scrambled old alliances and left/right verities. Mee's version kept the skeleton of the original plot but made several witty gambles and feints; his Azdak, for instance, was Heiner Muller, the inheritor of Brecht's Berliner Ensemble. John Fleck played the part with nervy authority, in a production that kicked off a run of great theater at one of L.A.'s best companies ever, Evidence Room, in its former bra factory space in the Rampart area near downtown, just down the street from the first paper that employed me, the Downtown News(That original troupe later fractured; the space remains but the company is itinerant.)

That Circle also kicked off another great run: In the cast were Megan Mullally, just then at the lift-off of her TV fame on Will & Grace, and a young Chicago actor named Nick Offerman (in only his second L.A. stage appearance; I'd caught his memorable first appearance, in the altogether, in Mike Leigh's Ecstasy). And thus began one of Hollywood's stranger, funnier power couples (see video above). It was gratifying, then, to sit down with Megan and Nick recently after all these years on the occasion of their return to the boards: Sharr White's Annapurna, which Evidence Room's Bart DeLorenzo staged last year at L.A.'s Odyssey Theater, and which begins performances April 13 at the New Group's Acorn Theater right here in NYC, and for the paper of record.

(Annapurna, by the way, marks Megan's return to the New York stage, where she's appeared fitfully over the years, but it's not technically Nick's Gotham stage debut: He subbed in for a few nights in the non-singing role of the boss in The Adding Machine at the Minetta Lane, while his wife was uptown warbling in Young Frankenstein. The last time I saw him in person, actually, was after catching him in Adding Machine; then he hopped on his bike and rode back down to his boat-building studio in Red Hook.)

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