by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
April 10, 2009
THE ROWBOAT AND THE DESTROYER: A PARABLE
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., April 8, 2009 -- Halfway through the second act of an innovative Northern Arizona University production of "The Threepenny Opera" one demonstrator in a New York City crowd waves the sign: "AIG IS CRUEL !!!"
Such is the topical and often humorous adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's play and Kurt Weill's songs, as the realities of Recession-cum-Depression, modern politics, and today's headlines hit the musical theatrical stage in America.
Since its very shaky start in previews in 1928, when the Threepenny Opera finally officially opened in Berlin it created a buzz. For four years it was the hottest ticket in Europe and in the more than eight decades since was been reinvented with the times.
But if you are waiting for the Louis Armstrong or Bobby Darin version of "Mack the Knife," well, fugeddaboutit! The shark certainly might have pretty teeth, dear, and to be sure he would want to keep them out of sight, but not in today's world.
The sinister star is now "Captain" Macheath and the scene is New York, not Berlin or London. His childhood friend and then archenemy is "Captain" Tiger Brown ("...sweet Lucy Brown"'s dad). Sharing shakedown and racketeering money is not the raison d'etre for their bond. In today's production, both men were officers in the U.S. Army in Iraq and later in Afghanistan.
The two Captains relive their wild days, including the use of forbidden booze in Moslem nations, and mourn the comrades who never returned or who returned with lamed bodies and maimed minds.
Watching workers "paying to play" by giving up 50 per cent of their street begging money to local beggar boss Mr. Peachum is as current as last night's six o'clock news. I thought of my daughter and her boyfriend (both college grads who gave up jobs to work for Obama) who sell t-shirts at rodeos and wrestling matches, deliver pizzas and work at a bowling alley to make ends meet.
During the Great Depression entertainment boomed as people wanted to escape from the harsh realities of bread lines and high unemployment into a live show or movie theater. Directors such as King Vidor brought the stark Depression realities to the silver screen (his career included such great flicks as:
The NAU's artistic director, Kay Castaldo, employed such tried-and-true Pirandello riffs as opening with "Mack" brandishing a knife and singing inside the rows of the audience as the overture ended. Later, bordello madam Jenny caresses men in the audience in a hilarious vamp.
But the serious side of one college production in a four-day run in Northern Arizona is that the actors and the audience both embraced and enjoyed a reality which included the school's symphony orchestra and live (instead of canned) music, and talented young folks who injected current and serious issues into a classic work.
The production included symposia by faculty members in the past week on Weill, Brecht, their respect or lack thereof for their audience, and how the play has continued to make social commentaries about poverty, war, peace, and crime since 1928.
It was poetic justice that in his final moments on the gallows, "Mack" is rescued.
The audience is transported to a moment from 'Miss Saigon," and the thump-thump-thumping of chopper blades resounds off the walls of the Audrey Auditorium.
It is the arrival of a White House helicopter, and Police Chief Tiger Brown, a tall, handsome black actor, reads a proclamation from the newly inaugurated President Obama commuting Mack's sentence.
The crooks and street urchins are victorious, proving that the dark side of life prevails and no bad deed goes punished.
Ummm, and they said AIG was cruel?