A MAN IS A MAN (EVEN WHEN HE’S A WOMAN)
by Kestry Lowrey
published December 14, 2007
Man is Man
now playing Off Off Broadway at
HERE Arts Center
through December 22
It’s not every day in this entertainment-driven city that a production makes me
want to dust off my Brecht and think critically about theatre and the world. True, there are
shows that make political statements about current events, or even performances that contribute to ongoing dialogue, but there are few things
with the same artistic and critical impact as a Brechtian piece done well.
The Elephant Brigade, a company of actors from Tisch/NYU and directed by Paul
Binnerts, has crafted a thought-provoking production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1926 classic, Man is
Man. Following the
transformation of Galy Gay from a naïve and ignorant porter into a vicious fighting machine, the play is a stark rumination on the
malleability of identity and the brutality and cruelties of war. The play is timely in that it does not glorify war, but lays it bare,
allowing audiences to step back and see it for the ugly thing that it is.
Jumping off from Brecht’s conception of “epic theatre” (which allows the audience to remain distanced and critical, as opposed to
the denigrated “culinary theatre,” existing only for emotional entertainment and consumption), Binnerts’ production of Man is Man uses “real-time theatre,” in which the actors are present on stage as themselves, telling a
story to the audience while being able to step aside from the characters and look at them as the audience does. “Real-time theatre” allows actors to function as intermediaries between the play and the audience,
serving to distance the audience from the material they are seeing.
This distancing is further achieved by the casting of the production, with the
central character Galy Gay played by a woman (Natalie Kuhn). Further alienation occurs from the
unusual theatrical form, in which the actors film and project miniature set pieces and objects during the action of the play. There is never the illusion that the actors actually are the
characters that they play—as we see them assisting with sound cues on the side between scenes, it is clear that they are here to show us a
As a company, The Elephant Brigade is fresh, young, and
energetic. It is their energy, however, that sometimes seems too much—the play moves on at a
strong pace, but the enthusiasm of the cast sometimes prevents necessary moments from having their due weight. This contention is only a minor one though, and does not ultimately interfere with the merit of the
ensemble (or the production) as a whole.
At the end, it is hard not to feel thoughtful. The material is classic and contemporary (as war always is) and honest in a way that few productions
achieve. Whether or not this is Brecht as Brecht intended it is hard to say, but it cannot be
denied that in this production, his intention is well-served.
kestryl.lowrey @ stageandcinema.com