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THEATER NOTES : The Debate Over Brecht Continues

The question of who wrote Bertolt Brecht’s plays is beginning to rival the question of who wrote William Shakespeare’s in recent media attention. The controversy was ignited by the publication last year of John Fuegi’s “Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics and the Making of the Modern Drama.”

Fuegi contends that most of Brecht’s work was actually written by women collaborators who were dominated and abused by him--especially Elizabeth Hauptmann, Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau. He compares Brecht’s personality to Hitler’s and Stalin’s.

Fuegi’s book has received mixed reviews in the United States and England, with the often acerbic John Simon calling it “one of the most significant cultural studies of the 20th Century.” But German reviews have been largely negative.

Fuegi will appear at a symposium on his book at 3 p.m. on Jan. 25 at the UCLA Dance Building. Critics Erika Munk and Roger Downey, who have written disparate opinions of the book, will also be on the panel, moderated by Emma Lewis Thomas.

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YAKETY-YAK: Now that “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is about to close (next Sunday) at the Doolittle Theatre, inquiring minds want to know about the microphone headsets on the cast members.

Just when the actors strike their most stylish pose, you can’t help but notice these contraptions on their heads. They were also on the heads of the cast of “Fame” at the Alex Theatre last year, where they may have been even more distracting, considering that “Fame"--unlike “Smokey"--was a book musical rather than a revue. More than one critic of these shows has written that the devices make cast members look like telephone receptionists.

Such mikes often are seen at pop concerts, and Tony Meola, sound co-designer of “Smokey Joe’s,” pointed out that the band is on stage, as it might be at a pop concert. Under such circumstances, mikes hidden in hair or costumes don’t do the job, he said. Headset mikes provide “more directionality, as if you were holding a mike"--yet they free the singer’s hands for dance steps.

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“If this show were done as ‘Grease’ or ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ with hand mikes, it wouldn’t be questioned,” Meola said.

Whatever, it may be the wave of the future. “Smokey Joe’s” will open on Broadway in early March, headsets and all.


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