Photos from the Carleton College Archives: 1893-1972
The Caucasian Chalk Circle - 1948
#3 of 7
n 1948, a cast of Carleton College students gathered on the stage of Nourse Little Theater to perform the world premiere of Bertolt Brecht's epic play, "The Caucasian Chalk Circle." The play has since become one of Brecht's most well-known works. Brecht wrote "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" in the mid-1940s while living in the United States in exile from his native Germany. A pioneer of the epic style of drama, he had achieved success in this medium in Germany before fleeing the threat of Nazi persecution in 1933. The play, based on a Chinese play written in 1300 A.D., is a parable set in Soviet Georgia near the end of World War II. It focuses on an act of goodness performed by a servant girl named Grusha and how she is judged by society regarding that act. Part I is the story of Grusha's good deed and the difficult choices she must make, while Part II follows the career of Azdak, the eccentric judge who must render a verdict on Grusha's actions. "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" was first performed at Carleton on May 4-8, 1948, under the direction of Henry Goodman, a World War II veteran who was exposed to Brecht's works in German theaters. After the war, Goodman was a student of Eric Bentley's at the University of Minnesota before coming to Carleton to teach English. Bentley, an eminent authority on Brecht, wrote the English text and lyrics to "To Those Who Come After," as well as the English translation of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle. At the time, Bentley was actively working to bring Brecht, who was controversial because of his Marxist ideology, to the attention of American theatergoers. After two years of trying to get the University of Minnesota to produce one of Brecht's plays, Bentley turned to Goodman about using Carleton as a possible venue. According to Goodman, Carleton in 1948 was considered to have a diverse and progressive faculty and staff which generated an atmosphere of experimentation and inquiry, as well as open-mindedness when it came to avant-garde theater. The Role of Azdak, the Village Recorder, was played by Alvis Tinnin. At the time, Tinnin was a war veteran attending college on the G.I. Bill. He was a theatrical veteran, having spent two years on Broadway in "Call Me Mister," a musical about soldiers adjusting to civilian life. Tinnin was again cast as Azdak in the first professional production of "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," directed by Bentley at Philadelphia's Hedgerow Theater in the summer of 1948.