Just in time for Brecht’s birthday, which is today!
On thinking about Hell, I gather
My brother Shelley found it to be a place
Much like the city of London. I
Who live in Los Angeles and not in London
Find, on thinking about Hell, that it must be
Still more like Los Angeles.
—from “On Thinking about Hell,” Bertolt Brecht
I was called up in the war and sent to a hospital. I dressed wounds, applied iodine, gave enemas, did blood transfusions. If the doctor ordered: “Brecht, amputate a leg!”, I would reply, “Certainly, Your Excellency!”, and cut off the leg. If I was told, “Perform a trepanning!” I opened the man’s skull and messed about with his brains. I saw how they patched fellows up, so as to cart them back to the Front as quickly as they could.
As the dramaturg.
I have been doing this regularly for several years for many of the larger theaters in Southern California. This means I have read literally hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of terrible scripts and a smattering of good ones too. And while this is frequently painful, it has also given me a unique perspective on the directions and trends that the playwriting community and, by extension, all of theater is going towards and will go towards in the future. Ironically, this is why dramaturgy really exists. It exists to offer that wide perspective, to step away from all the tiny beats and objectives and operatives and cues and look at things from afar. Dramaturgs try to offer context and it’s only when you stand back and do something crazy like read everything that the great, unwashed masses are sending out that this context can become clear. When you think about it, that’s all that research and program notes and post-show talkbacks are. It’s all just formalized, packaged context. This is also why I have hopped aboard the good ship Bitter Lemons; to talk about playwriting from this macro vantage point.
Though the rich of this earth find no difficulty in creating misery, they can’t bear to see it.
Everyone chases after happiness, not noticing that happiness is right at their heels.
There are times when you have to choose between being a human being and having good taste
The words in the title are used by MSNBC host Chris Hayes to describe the men working directly under General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, as characterized by Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. The open contempt for the President expressed by these men caused President Obama to relieve McChrystal of his command. But Hayes could just as easily have been talking about the soldiers in Brecht’s A Man’s A Man. And Brecht could easily have made one of the quips that Hastings makes in this clip, that “McChrystal doesn’t understand civilians. He doesn’t even understand their use.”
Worth a look.