Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Much Ado About Nothing
Playwright Charles L. Mee took his inspiration from The Chalk Circle, a Chinese play later adapted by Bertolt Brecht as The Caucasian Chalk Circle. In all its variations, the plot concerns an abandoned baby in a time of political upheaval, the women who fight over raising the child, and the unlikely judge who oversees the decision of who gets custody.
Mee's cartoonish look back at recent history begins with Erich Honecker (Sarah Marshall), the decrepit leader of East Germany, attending a play at the Berliner Ensemble with Christa (Kate Eastwood Norris), his self-satisfied mistress and mother of his infant son. As outside the theater the wall crumbles and student activists seize control, Honecker and his entourage (and the audience) sweep into the streets of Berlin.
In the midst of the upheaval, Christa hands the baby to self-absorbed American socialite Pamela (Naomi Jacobson) and idealistic student Dulle Griet (Jessica Frances Dukes). Their efforts to keep the child safe take them across a treacherous rope bridge, into the home of Dulle Griet's dotty relatives (Marshall, Norris), and eventually back to the city.
The play blends philosophical inquiry (whether free choice is a benefit or a burden, for example, and how to navigate between the twin corruptions of communism and capitalism) with broad humor. The slapstick moments include looters carrying off armloads of costumes from the Berliner Ensemble, an attempt to liberate a priceless work of art from a museum, and a hotel cook flinging flour in disgust. The overall effect is disorienting and riotous, which is what Mee and Rohd had in mind.
This production also brings together many familiar faces from past Woolly productions and lets them shine both singly and as an ensemble. Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz gets to emote grandly as Heiner Muller, leader of the Berliner Ensemble; Jacobson is hilarious in her preoccupations with her own importance ("I've never been in a revolution!") and her starry-eyed relationship with financier Warren Buffet (Michael Willis); Marshall, Norris, Daniel Escobar, and Michael Russotto provide different levels of lunacy; and Dukes' warm performance provides heart among the silliness.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company