Probably the best way to review A Bite of Brecht, now at Carnegie Mellon University, is to tell you what I saw and let you figure it out ... because God knows I can't.
It's an evening of Bertolt Brecht's poetry and lyrics presented as a cabaret in the Rauh Theater, which has been handsomely reconfigured as a cabaret space, with tables and chairs and small band on stage.
The show begins with the cast (all of whom, let me say upfront, are incredibly solid performers) settling as two groups on opposite sides of the stage. The color palette of the stage-right group is beiges, oatmeals and taupes, while the stage-left is grays, blues and purples.
The brighter of the two read Brecht poems is about rustic life and innocence. This bucolic fun continues until the dark-colored people go into their spiel and tell us about dank, evil city life.
Pretty soon, the people in the light colors are intermingling with the people in the dark colors and spouting poetry and singing songs about prostitutes while changing from light clothes into dark.
Since all of the clothes (no matter the color) are very modern, it was kind of difficult to know exactly when and where we were ... although I don't think such quotidian specificity was important to deviser/director Robyn Archer.
Anyway, the next thing you know the show's almost over and some of the cast strip down to their underwear and everybody sings a song. Then the rest of them strip down to their underwear and everybody sings another song. And then it's over.
Since engaging an audience doesn't seem to have been on Archer's wish list, I won't go there. But there is a major conceptual problem. Brecht wrote in German and everything we hear is an English translation. And why is that a problem? Of the dozen or so versions of the Brecht/Kurt Weill song "Mack the Knife" I have in my own CD collection, some of the translated English lyrics are so different in tone they could be from different shows. Although written by Brecht, Marc Blitzstein's translation of "Mack" is miles away from Michael Feingold's. So I'm not sure how "pure Brecht" this evening (with its nearly dozen translators) could ever be.
But most importantly I do think that Brecht's life, times and work were informed by copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears ... which this very polite and very mannered and very cerebral "cabaret" does nothing to conjure.
A Bite of Brecht continues through Sat., April 25. Rauh Theater, Carnegie Mellon campus, Oakland. 412-268-2407