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The Caucasian Chalk Circle


promethean theatre Ensemble
The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Directed by Ed Rutherford

With original music by Matt Kahler

Produced by Promethean Theatre Ensemble

At City Lit theater, Chicago

Overly ambitious production of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle drags on too long

Director Ed Rutherford’s unique story theater approach sprinkled with a spirited folk-infused music score together with a hyper-manic performance style by the cast made for a tedious uneven production. The mix of music, puppetry, physicality, and over- acting fueled the complex and confusing parable that quickly became hard to follow. At 2 hours and 35 minutes, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is about 30 minutes too long.

promethean theatre Ensemble

This passionate production suffers from too much screaming and fast-talking.  Kahler’s score suffers from poor singing with the exception of Cary Davenport, the Lead Singer and narrator. Given that Bertolt Brecht’s plays are complex, wordy and hard for audiences to follow, Rutherford’s production, while quite artistic and creative, plays out as an actor’s showcase rather than a work that audience’s can fully appreciate.  The mixture of songs, over-the-top acting concealed much of heavy political undertones. Much of the story comes off as cartoonish frivolity.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

The story centers abound a servant girl, Grusha (Sara Gorsky) who becomes a reluctant guardian to the infant of her wealthy mistress during a violent revolution. Much of the parable is centered on Grusha and her child surviving in a hostile rural community. After several long scenes, Circle turns into the judge’s story. Azdak (Teddy Lance) is the drunken judge who dolls out justice in a most remarkable manner. Eventually, he judges who is the actual ‘mother’ of the child; Grusha or the Governor’s Wife (Jennifer Roshm).

promethean theatre Ensemble

There is much to admire in Rutherford’s production. Dedication of the cast who play several roles plus many plays musical instruments and sing harmonies was effective. The creativity of the staging and the blend of comedy, physicality, and songs enrich the story telling. Unfortunately, the story and the symbolism of anti-Fascism often gets muddled with the over-staging. The Caucasian Chalk Circle’s high energy at first engages then  wears thin from too many scenes.  A trim of some the songs could also help prevent the over load.

I admire much of the stagecraft but the play ultimately wore me out. Fans of Bertolt Brecht will enjoy this dense production. Actors and directors will appreciate and learn from this production. But I’m not sure that most theatre patrons will appreciate Brecht’s important play.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 12, 2013

For more info checkout The Caucasian Chalk Circle page at

At City Lit theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 1-800-838-3006,, tickets $20, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 35 minutes with intermission, through February 9, 2013

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