This is a review of “Man=Man,” an early work by modernist German playwright Bertolt Brecht. I, the reviewer, am supposed to inform you, the reader, whether the Yale Drama School’s production, directed by Erik Pearson DRA ’09, is worth seeing. First, though, I’ve got to find the notes I scribbled down while viewing the show. Meanwhile, take a minute to read and consider the following quotation from Walter Benjamin’s essay, “What is Epic Theater?”
Benjamin writes: “The task of the epic theater, according to Brecht, is not so much the development of actions as the representation of conditions … [T]he truly important thing is to discover the conditions of life. (One might say just as well: to alienate them.) This discovery (alienation) of conditions takes place through the interruption of happenings.”
I’ve found my notes, but unfortunately all the pages are blank. Did my pen run out of ink? Sorry, the lighting in the performance space (New Theater, 1156 Chapel) was not ideal for note-taking, although it was substantially brighter than in other productions I’ve seen. Also I was a little tipsy during the last half, since beer was served during intermission. I only drank one beer, but because I had skipped dinner the effects were stronger than usual. (Lesson number one: Eat dinner beforehand.) And now I remember how every time I meant to jot something down — a brilliant line well-delivered by one of the actors, or a quick sketch of the stage design — something would distract me. The band (did I mention the live band?) would start playing Black Sabbath, or a giant inflatable “bouncy room” would slowly materialize, erecting itself like some monstrous Eastern deity, or a long pause would occur while one of the actors struggled to switch costumes.
Where was I? Oh yes! The lighting. Usually when I see a show, I take my seat in one of the rows facing the stage, the house lights dim to darkness, the action begins. Only, “Man=Man” is different. The seating is so erratic, it actually took me 10 minutes to decide where to sit. I, the reviewer, wanted to locate myself where I could see all the action of the play at all times, but there is no such seat in the house. (Lesson two: Arrive early.)
Before I tell you whether “Man=Man” is good or bad, I should first give you some background information about the show. Besides, it may be you don’t really care what I think; you’d rather base your decision on what it’s about (war), or whether you know one of the cast.
“Man=Man” follows an agreeable porter named Galy Gay (Eric Bryant DRA ’09) as he leaves his house to buy a fish only to become wrapped up in an impersonation scheme with a trio of hip-hopping, money-grubbing, prank-pulling soldiers (Eddie Brown DRA ’09, Alex Knox DRA ’09 and Kenneth Robinson DRA ’09) and a swindling barmaid named Begbick (Liz Wisan DRA ’10).
In a post on his video blog, which is intended to advance the audience’s interest to the level of expert (a crucial, if not absolutely necessary, prerequisite to “getting it”), Pearson says “Man=Man” follows Galy Gay’s transformation into “the perfect killing machine.” Elsewhere on the blog, Pearson writes that the play “confronts pressing questions of personal accountability and the value of individuality.”
Pearson also expresses his production’s intention to “make you laugh — till it hurts.” But the pain one feels watching “Man=Man” arises more from tedium than from laughter. Perhaps this tedium, this pain, is Herr Brecht’s medicine for a society sick with complacency. Just be advised that the thin sugar-coating of absurd humor will not make the pill any easier to swallow. (Lesson three: Beer).
Now I should credit the actors individually for their hard work and valiant efforts. Instead, here’s a quotation from “The Society of the Spectacle” author Guy Debord:
“The individual who in the service of the spectacle is placed in stardom’s spotlight is in fact the opposite of an individual, and as clearly the enemy of the individual in himself as of the individual in others.”
You see, we (and by “we” I mean everyone) are accustomed to watching movies and plays that, unlike Brecht’s, pull us in and make us forget ourselves, or to paying rapt attention to the evening news’ coverage of made-up wars fought for made-up reasons (though the effects, I’ve heard, are real), or to reading reviews that relay oh-so-succinct opinions which we will be happy to agree or disagree with. But what we like to call “thought” or “discussion” amounts to little and changes nothing, and the result is what Debord calls “the opposite of dialogue.”
See “Man=Man.” And when you have, tell me — man to man — what YOU think.