[Review] White People Limestone Ring

Halfway through its run, UBC Theatre is currently showing The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Chan Centre. You can still order tickets from their box office. Spoilers ahead.

An adaptation of an old parable. Source: UBC Theatre

Written by Bertolt Brecht, this play tells the tale of a woman who runs off with a child of noble birth.

The story takes place in the Caucasus region, where the Governor has been murdered by a political opponent dubbed the Fat Prince. In the resulting coup, the city is thrown into turmoil and the Governor’s wife flees without her child. One of her servants, Grusha, cannot bear to leave the child behind, and so takes him into the mountains to find somewhere to stay. After two years, the Governor’s wife returns and tries to reclaim ownership of her biological son; Grusha refuses and the two of them go off to court to have a judge make the final decision.

The play then switches to the “deuteragonist” of the play, Asdak, a lowly commoner who through a twist of events becomes the new judge after the last one gets hanged. In Part IV (or the beginning of Act II), the narrative switches from Grusha to Asdak to let us become acquainted with how he judged cases. His judgments are completely nonsensical (which is symbolically shown by him sitting on the book of laws, being literally “above the law”).

The reason for the name of the play becomes apparent at the climax, which is based upon a Chinese play which bears a lot of similarity to the Judgment of Solomon, where the mother of the child is determined by her lack of commitment to the proposed solution.

This production cast the entire BFA Acting class of 2014, which has a cast of 13 performing multiple roles (of both sexes, even) in a theatre-in-the-round setting, where the actors are constantly on stage or at the edge going through costume changes. For three hours of this it can become quite tiring and for that I have to applaud their tenacity.

Something serendipitous about the night I went was that it was also talkback night, and I got to hear remarks about the show from director Stephen Heatley and the cast. The question that I asked was: “You guys play a whole lot of roles in this show. How do you compartmentalise each character from one another and yet fully bring each one to life?” The two responses that I still remember were “being able to express the physicality through each character” and “bringing each character to life past their time on-stage, even if they’re on for a minute.”

The second remark reminds me a lot of my grade 11 year when my secondary school was doing Bye-Bye Birdie (with fond memories of intentionally throwing a note as Harvey Johnson) where we were given a day to make connections with other actors in character under the guise of a picnic. I actually didn’t get much out of that activity, though method acting may be something I may want to try out in the future.

I thought it was a good show to watch. The threatre-in-the-round setting drew the audience closer into the action than the traditional proscenium format; a character went as far as sweeping the floor by my feet. This show runs till the 5th of October, so watch it soon!

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