Friday, January 8, 2010

Beckett, Brecht, and Genesis

Next week, my short play, Party in the Desert, gets its first staging at Austin's fringe theatre extravaganza, Frontera Fest. I wrote it in response to a semester study of Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett.

With the assignment to "write a script displaying your understanding of the styles of B. & B.", I somehow immediately thought of Hagar's story. Rereading the accounts in Genesis, i was struck by this often dismissed character. She's quite interesting. She meets an angel in the wilderness of the Negev. Twice. And gives a name to the Elohim--the only woman recorded in Scripture as doing so.

Why did her story resonate in the context of these two playwrights' styles? Well, if you've read Happy Days, you know why a woman alone in a desert hearkened to Beckett. And if you've read, oh, say, Threepenny Opera, or Good Person of Szechwan, you might see potential for some idol-smashing in the persons of Abraham and Sarah.

Like most revered Biblical characters, Abe and Sarah aren't all good. And sometimes seem quite less than good. Suggesting such doesn't (i don't think) water down the significance of their faith--and perhaps it heightens the stakes for all of us: if an unkind person can receive blessed moments of grace, perhaps that means there could be some generosity from God towards me.

But enough about Abe & Sarah. We hear about them all the time. My curiosity at present lies more with Hagar--or that was the curiosity that sent me to flesh out a bit of her story in this script. The poor girl is sent to have sex with her mistress's husband in hopes of providing a child. When her womb succeeds and she gets proud about it, her elder mistress, rather than considering it to be expected from someone much younger, she beats her such that the girl would rather take her chances in the desert than back at home with Ma'am.

It was the prospect of having them all in one room: Abe, Hagar, Ishmael, and the pregnant Sarah that struck me as a situation Brecht would love. Who is the sympathetic character here? And what do we feel when we see our revered ones behaving poorly?

Of course, it demanded a song.

Ultimately, i'm wondering if this adventure might become a full length play...We'll see if it feels complete or if the audience wants more (or less!).

Either way, i think there's much more to explore in mixing elements of the Brechtian and Beckettian styles with the rich drama of the Bible...we'll see what's next...


Dennis Baker said...

All the best for your opening. Saw a couple posts down about your thesis paper on Brecht and Beckett. I would love to read it, you can find my email address on my website. Thanks

micah said...

I was researching Brecht yesterday. Pirate Jenny from Threepenny Opera influenced Lars von Trier and Bob Dylan on some of their work.