The Performant: Baring all


The Trial of Lucullus at CounterPULSE and Shazia Mirza at the Punchline

Open rehearsals are a hot topic in the theatre world, with compelling arguments on both sides of the debate about how much of the “process” in the creation of theatre should be public? On the one hand, the argument goes, the demystification of the process can only help audiences to understand a piece better, and connect more deeply with the finished production. On the other hand, the counter-argument proposes, so much is subject to change during rehearsal, that judging the potential merits of a future work based on an unfinished version may not be in the best interests of either audience or company.

My feeling is that transparency in art, as in life, enhances our experiences—and open rehearsals, like staged readings, can afford an audience a rare look at a work stripped down, naked, unencumbered by the dazzle of tech design and polish. To this end, during a special edition of the Shaping San Francisco Public Talk series at CounterPULSE, a group of San Francisco Sate University students performed an open rehearsal of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Trial of Lucullus,” which opens on the 27th for a weekend-long run.

For Joel Schechter, who co-directed the piece with fellow SFSU professor Barbara Damashek, the chance to test drive the work in front of an audience who probably won’t make the trek to SFSU for the finished production is definitely of value for the students. An ensemble cast of undergrads took the CounterPULSE stage to enact this little-performed Brecht play, which was originally written for the radio, and later staged as an opera with music by Paul Dessau.

Casey Robbins played the Roman General Lucullus on trial in the Underworld for his worldly deeds, the decision to send him to Hades or to the Elysian Fields in the hands of a panel of five jurors, commoners, whose ilk have not fared particularly well at the hands of fighting men. With movement, song, and somber monologue, the trial proceeds to its end, a plea for peace, as timely now as when Brecht wrote the play in 1939, and even as far back as 57/56 BC, when Lucullus himself passed away.

Are there any performers more naked than stand-up comedians? Those mercurial characters whose success so often comes at the expense of familial harmony. Friends, lovers, siblings, and parents are all perfect fodder for the stand-up comedian’s wry outlook and devastating observations, and the better the comedian, the less separate their “private” life becomes.

Shazia Mirza, who hails from Birmingham, England, the eldest daughter of devout Pakistani Muslims, has a wealth of family anecdotes to draw upon, many of which center around her parents’ desire to marry her off, or at least reap grandchildren from her. When Mirza points out laconically that for grandchildren to happen she “needs cock” for it to work, her mother apparently agrees. “Fine, have cock, have five cocks!”

Mirza, who also writes a column entitled “Diary of a Disappointing Daughter” for the Guardian (the UK Guardian), has a seemingly endless treasure trove of such stories, and during her set at the Punchline last Tuesday, she put a number of them on display. Naked. Beguiling. Human. Hilarious.

The Trial of Lucullus
Oct. 27-28, 2 p.m. and Oct 29-30, 2 p.m.
SF State Studio Theatre
(415) 338-2467

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