On my way into the theater for Geoffrey Decas O'Donnell's The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos, I overheard someone ask her companion "Who 's Brecht?" I cringed, not because it is some sort of unforgivable sin not to know who Bertolt Brecht is, but rather because satires are so reliant upon their relation to the original. We laugh because characters, stories, or locations we know are subverted in front of us. I worried for this person who, depending on the nature of the show, would either find some way to be entertained by taking the show at face value, or would be left completely adrift.
Well, that person laughed a great deal at this show, which is clever and very well performed, if a bit long, which is not coincidentally how I feel at a good Brecht production. And knowing anything about Brecht certainly can't hurt when you're seeing The Deepest Play Ever. The actors inhabit a makeshift world of anti-realistic props and a set that functions much like a spice drawer: a large assortment of items that can be used and then discarded. Oh, and zombies are the cinnamon.
The prop, set, and puppet designs by Deb O. are creative in and of themselves, but their foundation in Brecht's world makes them function in a fantastically Brechtian fashion. Every time we see someone use a foot as a gun or a duct tape covered cutting board used as a book, we are reminded of the meta-function of the play.
Of course, this entire concept would be null and void if the play had not been equipped with a strong cast who could all act, sing, and dance. The cast of ten Brecht types consists of Time as Narrator (Phillip Taratula), Mother LaMadre (Chinasa Ogbuagu), Swiss Cheese (TJ Witham), KitKat (Boo Killebrew), Golden Calf/Crocothemis/Warwick (Nick Choksi), Quinapalos/Zachary (Jordan Barbour), Night/Henrietta/Phoebe/Persephone/Cassandra (Carly Cioffi), Dalvador Sali (Geoffrey Decas O'Donnell), Yvette LaGuerre (Emily Walton), and Mephistopheles (John Halbach). Every actor in this cast is a pleasure to watch, which is why I believe that this show could be enjoyable to someone who's never heard of Brecht before.
As the actors go through the scenes of what is described as the first play of an 800 play cycle, they speak the titles of the scenes to the audience, change the set themselves, step in and out of their characters, sing, dance, and make ironic jokes about the fate of their characters. Lee Sunday Evans and Jordan Seavey have directed the piece well, making sure that all of elements flow together, like Michael Wells' music and Evans' choreography.
As the audience laughs through the play, one particular moment stands out to me as perhaps the most subversive and satirical. Killebrew's KitKat is an interesting character that is a mix of a marionette and someone who is mentally disabled. She has lost the power of speech and she garbles her words to the laughter of the audience. Killebrew's performance is excellent, and even though I was worried about the function of setting up a character with a disability as a joke, there is one moment in performance where this is blatantly turned on its head.
KitKat is the embodiment of all that is good in the world, and in pure Brechtian fashion, this character is burdened with a body that has been destroyed by "the Empire" (she has lost her ability to speak after an attack). At one point in the show, KitKat experiences a loss that she plays in an entirely realistic fashion. She weeps, she mourns, she attempts to communicate, and we feel for her. She then goes on to sing a song in her language that another actor "translates" for the audience.
Though there are some instances of laughter here, Brecht's alienation effect has been paradoxically achieved and broken. We are alienated because we are no longer alienated; that which we held at a remove is suddenly affecting us. This is an entirely different kind of satire, and it is a very interesting moment in the theater.
All in all, there is one section of the population that will enjoy this production more than others. If the idea of watching a bunch of talented folks poke fun at Brecht appeals to you, then The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos at The New Ohio Theatre is for you. If pride, Brecht, and zombies aren't your idea of a fun night, then you should sit this one out, but I'm happy that I got to see this entertaining show.