Pointedly political, yes, but Charles Mee's update of Brecht is also wildly entertaining
Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., Oct. 5, 2007
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through Oct. 7
The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years as a symbol of oppression, and when it fell, we were told a new age was upon us. When David Hasselhoff sang "Looking for Freedom" on the wall's rubble in his light-up leather jacket, it was a glorious sign that freedom, democracy, and happiness had finally arrived in Eastern Europe – or was it? The Mary Moody Northen Theatre's production of Full Circle wanders around this very question, as the high horse that American capitalism rides in on doesn't necessarily carry the East Germans to financial or personal success.
Charles Mee's postcommunist tale is an adaptation of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Mee's not afraid to follow Brecht's plot of largesse, replete with a kidnapped heir and a cover-up marriage, but straightaway it's evident that Full Circle is not just an update of the Marxist work but a reply, a search for the answer that Brecht's communist Berlin couldn't solve. While Chalk Circle begins with proletariat members advocating giving land to whomever can use it best, Mee's play starts up with an American businessman buying out rural workers on the cheap since his company's patent will make the most of their fields. (Hint hint, see the connection?)
With all these ideological equations, there's a great potential for the play to get mired in its self-referential structure, but both Mee's script and David Long's direction steer clear of such heavy-handed moments. For all the thoughts behind it, Full Circle is wildly entertaining. It has its meaningful moments and speeches, sure, and does them well, but the play hooks the audience in with stunts such as a daring drawbridge chase, a full-stage rendition of "All You Need Is Love" and "Y.M.C.A.," slapstick soldiers, pee jokes, etc.
The story focuses on Pamela, an American socialite vacationing on the other side of the wall, where she unwittingly becomes the caretaker of the arrested prime minister's baby after his government collapses. Pamela – played superbly by the ever-precise Jill Blackwood – is the kind of woman who flies first-class from five-star hotel to five-star hotel, being wined and dined by playboys in between massages. Mother-of-the-year candidate she is not. But with revolutionaries clamoring to put the child in prison lest he become an heir apparent, Pamela's strong moral compass guides her to protect the child from such despicable conditions. Luckily, Pamela happens upon Dulle Griet, a naive teenager who excitedly waves about her piece of the fallen wall, to be her au pair.
The two women lam it across East Germany while trying to avoid the clutches of two hapless officers (played to full comedic effect by Nathan Osburn and Jarrett King), and while the audience is focused on their plight, it's clear that the new democratic country is sputtering in their wake. Whatever wonders the capitalist revolution was supposed to bring have clearly been lost, and the "Y.M.C.A."-dancing wunderkinds of the fallen wall have been reduced to beggar boys and gals when the plot and child finally return to Berlin.
Where Brecht's Marxist figures were the voices of reason rarely heeded, Mee's capitalists are given the authority of knowing how the world works simply because they're rich Americans. Pamela's AmEx opens more ears, smiles, and doors than any wisdom she spouts, and the aw-shucks witticisms spouted by David Gallagher's comic Warren Buffet are treated like gold by the desperate Berliners.
When the play reaches its King Solomon conclusion, the principles of a new era decree a ruling that we might not be comfortable with. The Mary Moody Northen Theatre's Full Circle manages to stay captivating while making these statements, and it's a testament to director Long that his entire cast and crew is on the same page to deliver such a glittering performance. Michael McKelvey's musical direction delights throughout, and the strong cast is led by the sublime Blackwood, Greg Holt as the earnest and tortured playwright Heiner Müller, and the wonderfully innocent Helyn Rain Messenger as Dulle Griet.
While there are many philosophical points to ponder in Full Circle, this production succeeds, because from stage to costume to song, it's wonderfully fun and lovingly crafted. It's both thoughtful and entertaining, and honestly, any show that has a rockin' rendition of one-hit wonder "99 Luftballons" is on the right track.