Posted: November 27th, 2013
Modern Contemporary Theater Play Analyzed by Brecht Concept of Epic Theatre
Early writers of epic plays conformed to the Aristotelian theme that accorded ageless works that could handle generational and setting constraints by being applicable in each of the successive periods marked upon the initial public release. Shakespeare’s plays are a good example of such. Bertolt Brecht however, as playwright defied these concepts to incorporate his own style that is Anti-Aristotelian in nature. Most notably, Brecht rejected the application of unified production that former plays aligned to, often involving the use of scenes, songs, lighting, attires and performances towards the amplification of a single notion (Walter, 2003). He used a disarrayed form of production for the purposes of amplifying each of the previously mentioned elements as independent items for diverse notions. To acquire a comprehensive understanding of Brecht’s concept in theatre we will accord an analysis of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit to accentuate the technique.
Coward’s play centers on a séance ritual conducted by a group of four friends, with Charles Condomine bearing the position of the protagonist, his spouse Ruth, and their two allies Mr. and Mrs. Bradman. The ritual is conducted by Madame Arcati within the Condomine’s residence and although primarily meant to aid Condomine with his writing career, it accords an unprecedented effect to him as the spirit of his deceased wife Elvira is projected into his home (Coward, 2002). Elvira only materializes into human form to Condomine alone and this creates tension within his marriage and consequently leads to the demise of Ruth as the two women enter into a competitive stance for Condomine’s attention and love. Ruth’s ghost now replaces Elvira’s and torments the life of Condomine necessitating the services of Madame Arcati for the banishment of the spirit. This time, the séance is successful and although both spirits depart from the natural or rather become invisible to Condomine, any form of coarse joking towards both accords a retaliation like the braking of utensils to reflect the invisible presence of the spirits.
The play largely fails to incorporate Brecht’s concept of an epic play whose storyline would be wedged within a well-known myth or historical occurrence (Coward, 2002). This approach would in turn reduce the audience’s interest as accorded by the plot’s familiarity as the viewers are familiar with the scenes and plot. According to Brecht, this approach reduced the pseudo effect of dramatic plays that often employed the style of suspense to evoke sensation to the audience. With this form of approach, Brecht’s plays would take the position of narratives with the audience keen to the element of observation as the focus is imparted in the need to realize whether any form of divergence is created to the original story line as the point of action creation (Walter, 2003). Coward’s play stands in direct contrast to Brecht’s play concept as it primarily centers on according an unfamiliar plot involving an unsuccessful séance and its lethal consequences to the audience for the creation of a dramatic effect. Tension and anticipation are interchangeably used within the play to spur the audience into an anticipatory mood that holds twists and consequently the dramatic element within the tale.
A gradual plot is used in Coward’s story with each of the scenes being strongly interrelated such the preceding scenes act as foundations for the subsequent storyline. The exclusion of one scene within the story would therefore render the play as incomplete or incomprehensible. For instance, in the scene where Dr. Bradman converses sarcastically with Madame Arcati as a reflection of the contempt that science holds towards magic and supernatural occurrences creates acts as a deterministic foundation for the shock that the group is treated to as the séance proves to accord unprecedented results (Coward, 2002). Dr. Bradman’s position being a representative of the rest of the actors’ position therefore acts as a base of the reactions that follow within the play. Omitting or changing this aspect would modify the plot to a different one or leave the audience guessing between the gaps in a bid to understand the story wholly.
Brecht on the other hand relied on the use of loosely associated scenes to allow the aspect of personal analysis and conclusions to create a form of kaleidoscope within the story as multiple speakers would achieve as a product of one’s perspectives due to diversity (Walter, 2003). With this technique, Brecht’s approach accords a higher mode of realism within a story and thereby acts as a favorable platform for addressing pragmatic social problems in light of what each individual would propose as a solution to the given problem. Coward’s play bearing a linear storyline lacks this aspect as it offers leading scenes to the audience with few instances of individual conclusions (Coward, 2002). Perhaps the most notable open requirement for the audience within the play is accorded at the denouement with the viewers posed with the challenge of believing either in the presence of spirits and their ability to affect the physical world, or lack of total belief in the same theme. Brecht’s approach was far more challenging as inter-scene questions would be offered in caption forms to the audience to enhance the crowd into sessions of personal critical analysis.
In other instances, this would be achieved using the actors, as they would offer questions to the audience and a quick conversation before the play’s continuation. These aspects are lacking within Coward’s play (Coward, 2002). Brecht concept of the actors differs from other plays on the fact that feelings are not narrated but rather acted in a silenced manner before the audience. For instance, as Ruth screams to reveal her horror as she becomes aware of Elvira’s presence through the moving flower vase, Brecht would most likely have the screaming part acted out in accordance to his Gestus approach. The third concept as proposed by Brecht concerned stage props in terms of microphones, lighting, dressing, backdrops and other items placed within a stage during an act. In Brecht’s works, all main and secondary casts as well as the propos were arrayed in full viewership of the audience as a way of ensuring that individuals maintain the notion that the given narrative is just but an acting standpoint. In Coward’s play, only the characters are present to the viewers as soundmen and other supporters are hidden from the audience for the airing of an edited and scripted version.
Additionally, Brecht employed each of the props in a manner as to amplify its own message (Walter, 2003). The props would also be used for multiple roles, for instance a long vertical prop could be used in the function of a modern flat while tilting the same prop in a vertical form would accord a different role to the given prop. In Coward’s play, this creative element is lacking and most likely not condoned as a way of ensuring a flawless act to the audience for purposes of a superior act. Even in the least of props like costumes, they are changed off stage to reflect the passage of time as opposed to Brecht who worked towards the amplification of the fact that a play was only but an acted script and using his prop effects, this view was highly maintained. The fourth concept was the alienation effect that was employed by Brecht to propel individuals towards the acquisition of a deeper comprehension of every scene other than the surface meaning.
The alienation aspect as the name suggests limited the audience from their interactions with the actors for the purposes of reflection infused between the various scenes in a bid to spur the audience into the according parallels between the acted message and the physical world that such issues were evidenced in (Walter, 2003). This was achieved by active participation of the audience in discussion that was instituted by the actors through verbal or written queries. These interruptions were a common element in Brecht’s works. In Coward’s play, an active audience and the alienation effect are both lacking as the play does not pose such questions to the viewers and neither does it accord breaks for individual reflection on the accorded message. This is entirely left to the audience as long as the play has achieved its targeted message across to the viewers. In conclusion, therefore, Brecht’s concepts were largely applied in his works as most plays within the 20th century conformed to the dramatic pattern.
Coward, N. (2002). Blithe Spirit. London, UK: Methuen Drama.
Walter, B. (2003). Understanding Brecht. Antwerpen, Belgium: Verso.
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