• U.S.

The Theater: Sonata for Sharks

2 minute read
T.E. Kalem



Bertolt Brecht was an imp of ambiguity. He was an atheist; yet he admitted that Luther’s German translation of the Bible was the greatest single influence on his work. He was antiheroic; yet in Mother Courage he created one of the most arresting heroines in 20th century drama. As a Communist, he proselytized for the poor, but he was as tightfisted as the socialist Bernard Shaw when it came to his own money. And this coolheaded didact of “epic”theater and “alienation” effects was a sentimental idolater of Charlie Chaplin movies.

What color is a chameleon? Every man’s Brecht turns out to be his own. The production of Threepenny Opera at Manhattan’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, shaped with satanic brilliance by Director Richard Foreman, is abrasive, stylized and sinister. Brecht’s message —sprayed on the stage like graffiti on a subway train—is that the underworld of rapacious thieves, fawning beggars and mercenary prostitutes is an exact mirror image of property-minded, shark-toothed bourgeois society.

Granted that premise, this production is riveting. As a monocled Mack the Knife, Raul Julia moves like a Fred Astaire of gangsterdom, sometimes prowling for his favorite whore, Jenny (Ellen Greene). C.K. Alexander’s Mr. Peachum—the Fagin of London’s turn-of-the-century beggars—might have been drawn by George Grosz. The Kurt Weill score, too renowned for praise (Mack the Knife, Pirate Jenny), is superbly rendered. This Threepenny Opera honors the Brecht who wrote with a hammer and swung a sickle. T.E, Kalem

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com