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2014 Spring Issue 7 (May 23, 2014)

The World of Brecht in Little Nourse

May 30, 2014
By Julie Leghorn

We all know Nourse Little Theater as the janky student-run theater where ETB shows and the comedy groups perform. In outward appearance and functionality it can’t hold a candle to the three-year-old Weitz Theater – with its seats that sometimes fall apart when sat in and the mysterious holes in the stage. But what Lil’Nourse does have is history.

One of the theater’s shining moments was the world-premiere of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. That’s right, one of Brecht’s most performed plays to date premiered right here on campus.

Bertolt Brecht, one of the most influential 20th century playwrights, wrote Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1944 while in living in the United States, having fled Europe as Hitler rose to power. As a known Marxist, no theater in New York or around the country would produce any of his avant-garde works. When Eric Bentley, an American Brecht scholar and then professor at the University of Minnesota, and his wife translated Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1948, he was unable to convince the university to mount the production. And here’s where Carleton comes in: the new instructor of drama at Carleton, Henry Goodman – 28 at the time – had studied under Bentley and jumped at the opportunity to direct it with Carleton College’s support. (Unsurprisingly, the liberal arts atmosphere here at Carleton has housed experimental theater for over a century – case in point: ETB stands for the Experimental Theater Board.) This original production, including Al Tinnin, Carleton’s first African-American student as Azdak, impressed the Bentleys with the students’ understanding and performance of the difficult avant-garde text.

When I had to decide what play to direct as my farewell to Carleton and the theater I love so much, the hidden gem of Lil’Nourse history fascinated me, and I decided to bite the bullet and direct this enormous show with its 86 speaking roles.

My production, the fourth ever on campus, has an amazing cast of fourteen talented actors who have worked hard to bring this script to life. Come see its final performance tonight at 8pm in Nourse Little Theater. It runs 90 minutes and is sure to make you laugh.

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