Stages

Brecht Deserves a Better Revolution in The Last Days of the Commune at Prop Thtr

A musical number by the ensemble. Photo courtesy Prop Thtr.

Bertolt Brecht is an interesting, if often didactic, playwright. And so it is with The Last Days of the Commune, a play that was incomplete when he died in 1956. Props to Prop Thtr for taking on the sometimes tricky task of staging a Brecht play, adapted and directed by Stefan Brun. The period of the Paris Commune is less well-known than some other revolutionary movements and there’s a great deal of relevant history and drama here, but Prop Thtr’s production and staging are lackluster and sometimes confusing.

The Last Days of the Commune is set in 1871 Paris, the center of working-class radicalism, during the 10-week period when the left-wing government of the Commune is in power. Most of the characters are soldiers of the National Guard, workers and shopkeepers who support the Commune’s revolution. Meanwhile, the French national government headed by Adolphe Thiers (Rick Reardon) is headquartered at Versailles, supported by the regular French army. After the Franco-Prussian war ends in 1870, Thiers signs an armistice with Prussia. One of the amusing scenes shows Thiers (played here by Christopher Sylvie) in a bro-mantic relationship with Otto von Bismarck (Rick Reardon).

This re-creation of the revolution, its downfall and aftermath is set mostly in cafés and shops and in Place Pigalle. The scenic design is represented by painted backdrops by Shannon Evans. Scenes of speeches to the Central Committee at the Hotel de Ville are presented in video projections created by Cat Jarboe. Most of the props are basic, but I did like the rifles carved of unpainted wood.

The highlights of The Last Days of the Commune are the musical interludes, with songs composed and arranged by Kyle Ann Greer and performed by various groupings of six musicians and the entire cast as chorus.

Karen Fort as Madame Cabet.

There’s a lot of rich material in this Brecht adaptation, but it needs more time to gestate and perhaps further script adaptation. Some 24 actors and musicians take on the many roles set out in Brecht’s script but I can’t commend the acting. One exception is Karen Fort as Madame Cabet, who performs a moving speech near the end of the play. The Paris setting means there are plenty of French names and places to tangle with. And many of them are mispronounced. Even the name of M. Thiers, an important if unsavory character, is mispronounced regularly as M. Tee-ay. And the Hotel de Ville, headquarters of the Paris Commune, is usually pronounced Hotel de Vill except by one character who correctly pronounces it Hotel de Vee. The services of a dialect coach are badly needed here.

Because of the relative obscurity of this moment in political history, it would be helpful to have a more detailed playbill with some background on the Paris Commune, key historical figures, and a timeline of important dates. It’s also nice to have bio information on the cast and crew members.

Bertolt Brecht’s better-known plays are Mother Courage and her Children, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Threepenny Opera, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Life of Galileo and St. Joan of the Stockyards.

The Last Days of the Commune, about 100 minutes including one intermission, continues at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, through November 19. Performances are Friday-Sunday. Buy tickets for $20 online, by email at proptheater@gmail.com or by calling 773-742-5420.

Categories: Stages, Theater

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