The measure of all things

Man is Man

By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Marcella Nowak
Directed by Jackson Gay
Prospect Theater Company
West End Theatre
263 West 86th St. (212/352-3101)
Equity showcase (closes May 9)
Review by Jenny Sandman

"Man is standing in the center, but only relatively."

--Man is Man

Prospect Theater Company (Spring Awakening, The Belle's Strategem) scored another hit with their latest production, Bertolt Brecht's Man is Man. It was a rowdy, raucous reincarnation of Brecht's classic, newly and smartly adapted by Marcella Nowak.

Brecht's best-known play, Mother Courage and Her Children, is a play about war with no battle scenes; this is a play about soldiers, with only one. But Man is Man is more about modern man's anonymity and interchangeability, especially on a battlefield. Galy Gay, a simple worker (and not the sharpest crayon in the box, either), is on his way to market to buy a fish. On the way, he gets waylaid by Widow Begbick -- she needs help carrying her pickle basket -- and gets mixed up in a plot to conceal a soldier's plunder of a local pagoda. One of the four soldiers that raided the pagoda is missing, and the other three need to find a replacement for him, fast. They convince Galy Gay to act as the missing soldier. He acquiesces, as they keep plying him with beer. Gradually he gets so confused as to which identity is real that he becomes convinced he really is the missing soldier. Society makes him doubt his identity, so he adopts another one.

Nowak's translation is fresh and witty. While there are fewer songs, none of the projections that are called for in the original text, and no prolog or epilog, the text is slyly modern. The songs are funny and deceptively simple, with driving rhythms and choreography (Nathaniel Nicco-Annan). Original music and sound design are by Aaron Meicht.

Director Jackson Gay (Spring Awakening) kept to the Brechtian spirit of the original, which was performed in the Brechtian style. All the actors filed in together and remained around the scene of the action, sitting and watching along with the audience. When it was their turn to act, they simply stood up and moved into the acting area (a raised platform in the middle of the stage), becoming their characters as they moved into the light. Gay kept the play moving at a swift pace despite its length (two-and-a-half hours), and showed a deep dramaturgical understanding of the text.

The platform, reminiscent of medieval play wagons, was a simple rectangle outlined with guide wires. The actors provided their own backdrops and scenery, in the form of rolled painted cloths that could be hooked onto the wires and unrolled to reveal mountains, a pagoda, a train. Other props hung on the outer stage walls in a glorious confusion, waiting to be plucked by the appropriate actor. It was an inventive and thoroughly Brechtian set, down to the Widow Begbick's cigar (Brecht was a great cigar smoker, and even advocated the opening of a smoking-only theatre). The costumes were equally inventive in their simplicity.

But the actors were the best part of the show (as Prospect's audience has come to expect). Brad Heberlee, as Galy Gay, and Dara Seitzman, as the Widow Begbick, stole the show. They had an innate sense of comic timing and a magnetic stage presence. The rest of the cast (Jennifer Bruno, Sarah Elliot, Robyn Ganeles, Matthew Humphreys, Austin Jones, Frank Liotti, Lisa Louttit, Mark Mattek, Nathaniel Nicco-Annan, Paul Paglia, Patricia Spahn, Joe Vena, and Marnye Young) were equally versatile (often playing multiple roles), with strong voices and a flair for ensemble acting. They were a joy to watch, especially when they were all onstage together. (Sets: Erik Flatmo; Costumes: Jenny Mannis.)

Prospect Theater Company is known for its mischievous, creative productions of classics, and Man is Man did not disappoint -- in any regard. Brecht (even Kurt Weill) would be proud.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2

Return to Volume Ten, Number Twenty-eight Index

Return to Volume Ten Index

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2004 Jenny Sandman