“Mack the Knife” rendered by a kinetic ensemble as a rousing production number on a stage bare except for a piano and chairs, is a highlight of Theater Breaking Through Barriers’ resounding revival of Brecht on Brecht. Founded in 1979, TBTB is “dedicated to advancing artists and developing audiences of people with disabilities and altering the misconceptions surrounding disability by proving that disability does not affect the quality or integrity of art or artists.” This open captioned and audio described production affirms that credo.
When the audience arrives in the intimate theater which has been configured into a three-sided playing area, the performers are vocally warming up. Eventually each introduces themselves; the text of their remarks is projected onto a screen above the stage which also displays illustrative images. Then we’re on to a stimulating revue drawn from the plays, poems, songs and writings of the German theatrical titan Bertolt Brecht, encapsulating his life, politics and enduring place in the world. Brecht died in 1956 at the age of 58.
For 105 minutes, the personable and highly talented cast of Fareeda Ahmed, Scott Barton, Stephen Drabicki, Ann Flanigan, Anita Hollander, Anne Marie Morelli, Sean Phillips, and Pamela Sabaugh, provocatively entertain, all having opportunities to showcase their individual gifts. Cheery music director Dionne McClain-Freeney is often expertly on piano, she also plays characters including a judge who sentences a poor woman who murdered her infant son because she couldn’t get an abortion.
Director Nicholas Viselli’s physical staging crackles with force and exhibits visual flair with numerous arresting stage pictures. Bert Scott’s artfully simple scenic design conveys the sense of the past as does his lighting design, employing dimness, spotlights and blackouts all to great effect. Sound designer Eric Nightengale achieves an appropriate vintage vibe. While utilizing contemporary wear, Courtney E. Uruyo’s perfect costume design manages to evoke different eras of the 20th century particularly with its range of dresses and hats. Projection designer Samuel J. Biondolillo artistically melds words and imagery into a pleasing view. Crucial is the periodic inclusion of black and white footage of the Marxist Brecht testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.
Conceived by the Hungarian-born writer and translator George Tabori, Brecht on Brecht opened at a Greenwich Village theater on January 3, 1962, running for over a year. It featured Lotte Lenya, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Viveca Lindfors, George Gaynes, George Voskovec, Dolly Haas and Michael Wager. Directed by New York City theater pioneer Gene Frankel, the production was a cultural emblem of its time. The Threepenny Opera, Mother Courage and Her Children and The Life of Galileo are among the key Brecht works that Mr. Tabori skillfully wove together into a faithful and snappy distillation. TBTB produced it in the spring of 2002, in response to 9/11.
Brecht’s excoriation of capitalism and middle-class morality could seem pertinent to many today. Theater Breaking Through Barriers’ passionate presentation of Brecht on Brecht preserves his sensibility while providing a welcome platform for its cast of charismatic disabled performers.
Brecht on Brecht (through November 20, 2021)
Theater Breaking Through Barriers
The Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at The A.R.T/NY Theatres
502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, http://www.tbtb.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission