As part of the New Works 4 Weeks Festival, Red Eye Theater will presents a new show this weekend that takes a look at the iconic playwright Bertolt Brecht, and the women that were a part of his life. Set in 1947, during the time that Brecht faces the House Un-American Activities Committee, the piece was first conceptualized with University of Minnesota students in 2008. Rehearsing Failure is a growth from that original piece, utilizing the talents of playwright Cory Hinkle and composer Annie Enneking.
The play is "not a linear, straight-forward story," says director Lisa Channer. Rather, it utilizes dream scenes and realistic moments, as well as more conceptual moments.
One of the central references that the collaborators used to create the show was Brecht and Company, a controversial 1994 book by John Fuegi which paints Brecht as a fraudster and misogynist, asserting that most of Brecht's writings were in fact written by the women that surrounded him, namely Elisabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin, and Ruth Berlau.
While the book was in some ways their central reference, Channer says the more they researched, they felt it was more complicated than the way that Fuegi portrays it in his book. "It's tempting to see the women as victims of an evil maniacal man," she says. "But we were ultimately more interested in exploring the women's stories. It's a lot about the male-female dynamic, the intersection between sexual energy and creative work, and the nature of collaboration and authorship."
In fact, while Channer has been working collaboratively for decades, she says this is the most collaborative piece she's ever done. Technically she is the director, Cory Hinkle has written the text, and Annie Enneking has composed the music, but she says all those lines have blurred among them and the cast of actors.
In developing the piece, the cast did a lot of work with objects such as Brecht's glasses, a typewriter, old telephones, and a whip that Brecht used to carry around. The artists explored physical movement and sound based on their personal relationships with the objects.
The objects become a kind of orchestra, creating a "conceptual rock concert" which include instruments as well. For example, noted Theatre de la Jeune Lune veteran Barbra Berlovitz will be playing the electric bass.
Pearce Bunting plays Brecht as a human, "not as a monster or a god," says Channer. However, they do explore the idea of genius. "A lot of people who worked with him accepted that they were working with someone who was exceptionally smart," she says.
The women were geniuses too, but as women, there was no way they were going to be as well known as Brecht, and so they often would allow Brecht to assume authorship, says Channer. "It's the type of feminist work that often doesn't get done. It's generous to everybody in the story."
Channer doesn't aim to bash Brecht, but they do reveal moments when he's mean, tricks people out of contracts, and dumps people who are no longer convenient. She says it might help if you know who Brecht is when you see the piece, although a few people who didn't know much about him have seen the rehearsals and have enjoyed it.