It's really no surprise that a play about Bertolt Brecht and his artistic collaborators came about through intense artistic collaboration.
Over the past six years, Theatre Novi Most's Lisa Channer has led the exploration. The latest fruits of the labor, Rehearsing Failure, open Saturday at the Southern Theater.
See also: Theatre Novi Most Latest Work is a Real Picnic[jump]
It started as a project at the University of Minnesota, where Channer is a theater professor.
"My chair at the time asked me to direct a play by Brecht, The Life of Galileo. I had just done it at Yale a few years before, so I said was interested in how Brecht's production came out the same year he testified in the HUAC hearings. Could I do an original piece that puts that all together?" Channer says.
That version, made with a team of students, came about in 2008. Over the next six years, Channer returned to the project several times, building and rebuilding the material with a group of professional performers and playwright Corey Hinkle.
Over time, including during a workshop production last year at Red Eye, the focus has been honed. "The HUAC stuff has become less. Those characters went away, and it focuses very much on the three women who were central to Brecht's work in those years," he says.
The women -- wife Helene Weigel and lovers Elisabeth Hauptmann and Ruth Berlau -- were instrumental in bringing Brecht's most famous works to the stage, though they didn't get the credit they deserved at the time.
The show plays with the artistic and sexual energy and tension that existed (the four were not just collaborators; they lived in the same house), which sometimes comes out in song.
"I love working on a piece with a director who has a very clear vision and a playwright who I really admire. I have been part of many collaborative and devised things, and it is lovely to have a playwright as one of the divisors," says actor Sara Richardson.
The company also includes Barbra Berlovitz, Pearce Bunting, Annie Enneking, and Billy Mullaney. Enneking and Dan Dukich composed the music.
The play focuses its action in 1947, when Brecht, exiled to Los Angeles during the rise of Nazism and World War II, was preparing the latest version of The Life of Galileo. Brecht obsessed over the great scientist's life, and his experiences before the inquisition for his dangerous belief that the Earth went around the Sun.
"All his life, Brecht had visions of going before a great tribunal. Galileo was part of working out that vision," Channer says.
The great tribunal, as it turned out, was the House Committee on Un-American Activities. The play premiered in August. Brecht testified before the committee in October, and then left the United States for good soon after.
The play makes shifts in time and location, with two Brechts (young and old) interacting and observing the proceedings. The Southern stage has even been turned on its side. The audience will sit on the stage and watch the action, which will take place on a small home, also set on the stage, and then all around them, including the house and the control booth.
IF YOU GO:
Rehearsing Failure Saturday through February 22 The Southern Theater 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis $24; $18 per month for ARTShare membership For tickets and more information, call 612-326-1811 or visit online.