Versatile Theatre Company Stages Unique Brecht Revival!
A review of Hipgnosis Theatre Company’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”
by Audrey Dimola
Published on licmagazine.com, April 2008
The Hipgnosis Theatre Company (www.HipgnosisTheatre.org), founded by Astoria/Queens-residents Demetri Bonaros, John Castro, and Margot Newkirk, is staging a rare revival of Bertolt Brecht’s classic play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” (directed by Newkirk) at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker in a limited engagement from now until May 11.
You may not be familiar with Bertolt Brecht, and you may have never even heard of his rarely performed play, but whether or not you are a seasoned theatregoer, this is a production – and moreover, a fantastic theatre company – that is not to be missed.
The mission of the Hipgnosis Theatre Company “is to place the communion between actor and audience – the unique alchemy of theater – squarely at center stage,” and it certainly lives up to its philosophy. The actors are in and around the audience, quite literally, and you’ll be close enough to the action while being completely surrounded by it at all times. The intimate and yet spacious theatre in the round space set up downstairs in the Theatres at 45 Bleecker gave the company a particularly effective location in which to present the story of the Chalk Circle solely by way of their skills as exceptionally expressive and imaginative actors.
In the style of Brecht’s epic theatre, the audience is meant to remain ever aware that they are watching a play, but in truth, this talented company had no need for complicated stage effects, prerecorded soundtracks, or large set pieces either way. With very limited props and costume alterations, the actors skillfully maneuvered through two and a half hours of genuinely entertaining theatre, with each cast member slipping in and out of multiple parts.
The production gets back to the true roots of acting in this way, and also by utilizing self-created sound effects (like the howling, whistling wind, or the way the company humorously piped up in unison with the word “bing!” every time an imaginary coin was dropped into an actor’s hand). They snapped their fingers or stomped perfectly in time to keep the beat during some of their wonderfully executed a-capella vocal numbers (the original score was composed by co-founder and actor Demetri Bonaros), which were charming, haunting, and just plain funny at times. This of course also attested to how connected and attuned to each other the actors are as an ensemble.
Watching the cast harmonizing, believably miming with invisible props and set elements, switching between characters (each with their own voices and idiosyncrasies), and performing frenetic stage directions and choreography all over the stage and the space, one cannot help but marvel at the versatility of the actors. The plot expands to include numerous locations and many different character relationships, but centers around the story of Grusha (Rachel Tiemann), a simple maid who adopts an abandoned child of noble birth who has been left behind as the baby’s mother, the Governor’s wife Natella Abashvilli (Ayanna Siverls), selfishly flees the war-torn city without her son. The first strong voice that rings out is that of Bonaros in the role of the Singer, who narrates this epic folk tale alternately through speech and song, and guides us all the way to the test of the Chalk Circle at the end of the play. Each and every member of the cast entertained and stood out in their own moments, including John Kevin Jones in his rousing scenes as Azdak, who comes to take on the position of the (hilariously drunken!) Judge.
The Hipgnosis Theatre Company’s production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is a unique theatrical experience that you do not have to be familiar with Brecht to enjoy. The dynamism of the actors and the quirky, over the top characters they portray make this play accessible to everyone who can appreciate unique staging and the kind of versatile company that can truly bring a playwright’s words to life.
And if, as we are taught by the story of the Chalk Circle, “that what there is shall belong to those who are good for it,” then continued success shall belong to this talented company – Hipgnosis is one to watch!
The Theatres at 45 Bleecker are located at 45 Bleecker Street between Lafayette and Mott Streets (6 to Bleecker or B, D, F, V to Broadway-Lafayette). Performances run Wednesdays – Sundays at 7 p.m. with two additional performances on Tuesday April 29 at 7 p.m. and Saturday May 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200, online at http://www.telecharge.com or in person at The Theatres at 45 Bleecker.
Visit www.HipgnosisTheatre.org for more information on the company and the play.