When you think of a play, what usually comes to mind? Three acts, no music, and one actor per role? Emerson Stage’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle is challenging that definition. Over the course of the five scenes, three different actors of all genders took on the role of the heroine Grusha Vashnadze.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle was performed last week in the Greene Theater. The play follows a young peasant woman in post World War II Georgia who cares for a noble-born child after his mother abandons him. In the final scene of the show a local judge must decide who the child’s true mother is.
Although the show premiered nearly seventy years ago, director Courtney O’Connor (CQ) said the themes relate closely to current issues.
“It’s a play about refugees,” O’Connor said, “I don’t know how that could not be more relevant today.”
Sydney Torres, junior performing arts major, was one of the cast members charged with taking on more than one character.
“It keeps you from getting attached to one character,” Torres said. “You have to give them an equal amount of love and attention.”
The play explores the idea of doing the right thing even when it is grossly inconvenient.
“It’s the search for the good person, for the hope that we’re looking for.” O’Connor said. “I think it is as timely now if not more timely than that part of the story was in 1948.”
Music is used throughout the show. It acts as a device to push the show forward by distracting from scene changes and accounting for leaps in time. A singing ensemble similar to a Greek chorus even accompanies some scenes.
Elizabeth Cahill, a senior performing arts major, was the sound designer and composer for the show. She was responsible for creating all of the melodies throughout the production.
“There were a lot of moments in the script where it would say ‘he sings’ then chunk of line,” Cahill said. “So we had to create all of that.”
When constructing instruments for the show, Cahill said she was influenced by the innovation displayed by refugees.
“They would just pick up things are start making music out of them. We have a washtub base which is a pole, a stick, a string, and a wash tub,” Cahill said.
Cahill recalled the night when a family member of one of the costume designers was brought to tears.
“He recently went blind, so the cast all lined up so he could feel each of the fabrics. Then he sat down and just started crying.” Cahill said, “He said he could feel the music moving around him.”
O’Connor said she hopes the cast of The Caucasian Chalk Circle achieved Bertolt Brecht’s goal.
“He wanted to incite people to do something, to be compelled to move to action, and to keep that story propelling them forward,” O’Connor said.