Opening night of The Brecht Project could not have been more unconventionally successful. Between the Zoom setting, the split-play format and the timing of the premiere in relation to the election, “The Private Life of the (Not So) Master Race,” directed by Susan E. Evans, was strategically impactful and enjoyable. The show is an amalgamation of five short plays based on anti-Nazi shorts in Bertolt Brecht’s 1938 “Fear and Misery of the Third Reich.” Much like in Brecht’s original work, where anti-Semitism is portrayed in its intimacy between everyday citizens of Germany, “The Private Life of the (Not So) Master Race” — a clever twist on Brecht’s original title, “The Private Life of the Master Race” — attempts to capture bigotry and marginalization as it plays out in small-scale human interactions.
Christine U’Ren’s “The Informer” is the project’s mysterious opening play. Almost immediately after some opening credits and plucky string music, a split screen of actors are introduced, whose stillness and expressions give them a cohesive look despite their different home backgrounds. The majority of the politically infused dialogue occurs after the son exits, when his parents ramble about their paranoia that he is ratting them out for their progressive viewpoints. U’Ren’s references to Facebook, boba teas and Alexas are an effective, but almost overbearing, call for relatability from the audience. However, her point stands strong — political people are endangered by the media.
Up next, “I’m With Her” by Scott Munson manages to meld humor and political idealism even more successfully by raising the stakes in its plot. Set in a “purple-ish” state, Munson’s script boasts developed characters such as a Trump supporter who has “a real sex appeal despite his political views.” Craig Souza does not hold back in his performance as a “Trumpie”: He calls a “Resist” T-shirt a “target,” strikes up racist rants and rages about a race war in the country. Meanwhile, actresses April Deutschle and Kimberly Ridgeway provide witty comments and a lighthearted air, which only heightens the frustration of watching Souza, since his character’s toxicity is never ripped into by most of the surrounding characters.
Munson’s second play, “The People Upstairs,” offers a shorter, but still noteworthy, glimpse into a confrontation of racism between a man and a wife. A lower-class worker (Gene Mocsy), admits to calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the couple’s upstairs neighbors. When confronted, his reaction arcs from blatantly racist defensiveness to an internalized concern on how to amend his wrongdoing. Overall, the quickness of the scene doesn’t detract from its emotional realism, but leaves viewers wanting more.
The following play by Reg Clay, “Judicial Process,” hit every note of wit and relevance possible within just 10 minutes. The scene showcases a judge of a small court (Tom Reilly) as he is manipulated and influenced by multiple sides of a case against ICE employees who have been charged with assaulting an unjustly targeted Mexican man. The back-and-forth volleys between the characters, as well as the dramatic shifts of mindset expressed by the judge, convincingly demonstrates the extent to which being a good person is nearly impossible in our justice system.
Denmo Ibrahim’s “Judith,” on the other hand, is the least comedic and most biting of all the plays, a story of family trauma and remembrance. Damaris Divito plays a Jewish woman who is sorting through items passed onto her by Holocaust survivors in her lineage. Tension emerges between her and her husband (Tim Holt Jones), who manages to display both apathetic ignorance and a willingness to learn how to help her with her tradition. The most jarring aspect of the play is how late into their preestablished marriage a resolution between the couple is found, highlighting that the Holocaust and family trauma can be ignored uninterruptedly by those of us who have the ability to ignore it.
Much more could be said on how the production harnessed parallels between the Third Reich and our modern dysfunctional society, but the quickness of each play makes each social issue seem — quite accurately — like a cliffhanger. The Brecht Project is admirable in that it grabs our attention with a fresh explanation of the same problems that we often wrongly assume we know enough about. While The Brecht Project is limited to a short virtual run, its questioning of regime culture will reverberate into our future conversations of bigotry in America.
Contact Nurcan Sumbul at [email protected].