Forbidden love has always been a favorite topic of playwrights, who like nothing better than to add an extra touch of drama to the old, old story. Unfortunately–or not–the list of officially proscribed romantic partners grows shorter every day, thus making it harder to portray any relationship, however outré, as illicit. Once the merest hint of homosexuality was enough to send a delicious shudder through most any audience, but that was then. David Harrower’s “Blackbird,” in which we are invited to contemplate the coupling of a 40-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl, is ever so much more up to date….
This is where I’m supposed to say that I found “Blackbird” challenging, disquieting, disturbing…you know the litany. No doubt some trendy critic will even call it transgressive. But what I find most disturbing about “Blackbird” is that in the absence of any moral frame for the events Mr. Harrower is describing, it’s hard to see a point to his play beyond mere prurience….
Bertolt Brecht wrote three different versions of “The Life of Galileo,” and each time he added a fresh layer of moral complexity to his fictionalized stage biography of the Italian scientist who proved that the earth orbits around the sun, then recanted his discovery in order to escape the fires of the Inquisition. The first version is a Marxist parable of Reason Enlightening the World. In the second, written after Hiroshima, Brecht rethought his blind faith in science as the engine of human happiness; in the last verson, written after he returned to East Germany and was forced to choose between supporting a totalitarian regime or having his theater company shut down, he sharpened his portrayal of Galileo’s self-protective opportunism.
After “Mother Courage,” “The Life of Galileo” is Brecht’s finest play, but it doesn’t get done nearly often enough in this country (so far as I know, it hasn’t been staged in New York since 1991). That’s why I made a point of going to Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater to see the American premiere of David Edgar’s new translation. This production, directed by Blanka Zizka, is a lively, plain-spoken modern-dress staging devoid of the heavy-handedness that can make Brecht awfully hard to swallow….
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