With Brecht

Translator: María Dolores Ponce

UNAM-Dirección General de Publicaciones y Fomento Editorial / CONACULTA / INBA-CITRU
México, 2007
107 p.

Colección Teatro

As a “critical celebration” for the centennial anniversary of the birth of Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), the theater critic George Banu and the stage director and playwright Denis Guénoun talk with theater creators, all of them having a complex relationship with Brecht and belonging to different generations. They talk about his role in the cultural renovation movement of the second half of the 20th century, about the validity of his work and his thoughts on the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They talk especially about his points of contact with the German creator. Peter Stein, founder of the Schaubühne, considers the contents of Brechtian playwriting outdated. He examines the “jail of ideology” in which Brecht was locked, his Stalinism and political opportunism and the “Mannerism” of his heirs and adepts. However, he does acknowledge Brecht “for being the only one that during the 50’s dared to reform the art of theater and who reflected artistically on theatrical praxis”. André Steiger, the “most classical Brechtian of the people invited to this debate”, who between the 50’s and the 80’s introduced Brecht’s plays, thinking and work to France, highlights a specific item in the legacy of the German director: the new notion of the shape as ideological communication vector, the shape as a metaphorical event, the spectator participates through it by inventing the message. Judith Malina, founder along with Julian Beck of the Living Theater in 1947, tells of her encounters with Brecht and Piscator in New York. She makes a distinction between his aesthetic and political personalities and conceptions. She explains her greater affinity for Piscator in the pacifist, anarchic current of a theater of resistance, which shows that we are not impotent before the political or economic powers governing us. Stéphane Braunschweig, the youngest of those interviewed —since he started his career in theater when the cannon teaching of Brecht in France was already discredited—, highlights Brecht’s greatest legacy as having returned the spectator to the center of the theater, as well as the ludic and dreaming dimension implicit in the acting of its comedians. Meanwhile, Matthias Langhoff, stage director at the Berliner Ensemble, explains the validity of a Brecht that asks questions and explores an open theater, the creator of a political theater addressing the real problems of society. Michel Deutsch of the National Theater of Strasbourg remembers that public theater in France was monopolized by dogmatic and academic Brechtians, who were opposed to a critical, active and open reading. He proposes a current Brechtianism, close to the new broadcasting and communication media: TV, video and internet. In the closing of the book, George Banu evokes the poems of Brecht in exile and proposes to listen to them as the voice of an artist who chooses the path of political exile as his weapon of resistance against power. As an epilogue of this many-sided and plural vision, Denis Guénoun concludes that Brecht still has much to teach us on the exercise of merciless criticism of ideologies and the criticism of the overthrowing of supposed realities. Illustrations with portrait sketches by Brecht are included.