I Bertolt Brecht
by Victor A. Grauer
[The entire scene change should, if possible, take place during the performance of the Zwischengesang, which began at the end of the previous scene. If this is not possible, the Zwischengesang should be sung immediately prior to the beginning of scene 3 and not at the end of scene 2.]
We are, literally, on a stage set. The "setting" is an army barracks, circa World War I. Various items, bunks, rifles, canteens, boots, etc. are strewn about in no particular order. Lighting fixtures are also on stage, some on, some off, producing a very strange effect. A smoke machine sits in a corner, elevated, so it can clearly be seen -- whenever BB takes a puff on his cigar, the smoke machine will belch a puff of smoke. Various young people, male and female wander about the set pretending to know what they are doing, adjusting things. Off to one side, at extreme stage left, up very high, almost to the ceiling, is a lectern, illuminated by a floodlight from above. The Professor [P] is kneeling behind the lectern.
P: [heard, not seen -- speaking into a microphone -- volume too high -- accompanied by feedback] MANN IST MANN.
P: Oh my! Bummer! [mike is disconnected] That's much too loud. Hmmmm. Excuse me, everyone. Can that be fixed? [mike is connected again -- this time it is set to normal volume, with no feedback] Testing. Testing.
Voice from loudspeakers: Act I, Scene 3. Sorry, but we're in for yet another lecture. The professor will try to keep it brief. But just to be safe, we'll interrupt him as often as possible. Our hero, as part of some ill defined "deal," is now director of the same play he himself has been unwittingly duped, or perhaps hypnotized, into participating in. If this sounds confusing, it is. No one is more confused than he, when, during the rehearsal he's supposed to be directing, he finds the characters mouthing some familiar lines. And realizes he's never actually been his own man. But always already a character in someone else's play. Oy -- and then both wives show up. At the same time.
P: Let me start over again. [pause -- he stands up, taking up the posture of a lecturer behind the lectern -- as his lecture proceeds, he will move out from behind it and pace the stage freely, encroaching, from time to time on the "stage set" area.]
Mann ist Mann. A play by Bertolt Brecht, performed for the first time in Darmstadt in 1926. "Mann ist Mann." An untranslatable phrase, really. The German word "ist" [he writes it on the blackboard] means "is" [on the blackboard: "ist = is"]. Man is man. But dig it, the same sound can also stand for a different word, "isst" [writes it], which means "eats" [on the bb: "isst = eats"]. Man eats man. According to Brecht, and I quote: "It concerns the technical dismantling and reassembling of a human being into another kind for a particular purpose." Creepy! [the Professor continues his lecture on Mann ist Mann throughout the entire scene -- for the complete lecture, see below, after the end of this scene.]
VG now enters from stage right, dressed as BB, as in Scene 2, but this time wearing a bowler hat. He is accompanied by the Secretary and the Translator.
BB: [singing, from off stage] Ich bin zu den Leuten freundlich. Ich setze
Einen steifen Hut auf nach ihrem Brauch.
Ich sage: es sind ganz besonders riechende Tiere
Und ich sage: es macht nichts, ich bin es auch.
VG: [singing] I, Bertolt Brecht, am a friendly sort. I set
A Bowler on my head as people do.
I say: They're animals with a very peculiar odor.
And I add: it doesn't matter, I smell too.
The three are approached by a very prim and proper young woman wearing a suit, Dean Fairchild.
Fairchild: [addressing VG] Well. It's a great pleasure having the opportunity finally to meet you, Herr Brecht. [shakes his hand briskly] This is a great honor. [addressing the students] Everyone! Please! May I have your attention! Herr Brecht has (finally) arrived. It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to one of the great men of our time, a really great playwright and great director. It's so great that we've been given the opportunity to work with someone of this stature. This is going to be a great learning opportunity for us all. Herr Brecht, would you like to say a few words to our little student troupe?
VG: [looks around for help from T and S -- then summons up some courage and speaks -- in a "German accent"] Zank you Zank you, Ms. . . .
DF: Fairchild. Dean Fairchild. Please call me Emannuella. I'm on the drama faculty as well. Insist on teaching at least one class a year, you know how it is. And I always direct our annual major production. Normally I'd be directing the play myself, but in this case, of course, we have YOU, the creator of this ahhhh remarkable play, as our director.
VG: Ja, Ja. Hmmm. Vell, it's soitenly, ahh, certainly, mmm, a grrreat grreat honor to meet you Madame Dean and an honor to be here amongst you, such a fine looking group of shtudenten. Ahhhh Zooooo. [hesitates, not sure what to say]
S: [nudges VG from behind]
VG: Oh. Yes. I'd like to intrroduce you to mein esteemed colleagues, mein translator.
T: [bows to DF]
VG: Und mein secretary, who izz alvays to me zooo helpful, ja.
S: [bows to DF and smiles]
DF: Charmed. And the students have already learned their lines, Herr Brecht. We're ready when you are, Sir.
S: [whispers to VG] Have them take their places. Their places?
VG: All rrrrright effreybody, places, places.
S: [clapping vigorously] PLACES.
[The actors gradually arrange themselves into some sort of order, the stage hands move to the periphery.]
VG: [to the Secretary] You know, I always wanted to do this, to be a director. All my life I've worked alone, but this is nicer, working with people, collaborating, making decisions as a group. I love it.
[BB enters from stage right, ignored by all the actors, who cannot see him. He walks deliberately, stopping to examine certain props, with a critical eye. He has a cigar in his hand. Whenever he puts it to his lips, the smoke machine will let out a puff of smoke.]
S: Just remember who you're supposed to be, OK? And I don't know about that accent. What can we do about that, eh? Hmmmm.
Actress 1: [approaches VG slowly and with great respect] Oh, Herr Brecht, I just want you to know how excited I am to be working with you. I was on the Internet last night looking up as much as I could about you. Oh this is just soooo cool.
VG: Zank you mein dear, zank you.
A1: [getting closer] I was wondering if I could ask you a question, sir, about your play Mother Courage? Because I'm writing a paper on the role of women in the theater? And I was wondering how you felt about the female characters in your plays?
BB: [approaching VG from behind -- eyeing the girl] Sehr schoen sehr schoen sehr schoen.
[A stagehand just then lifts up a placard reading: "Very beautiful, very beautiful, very beautiful" carries it across the stage and sets it down.]
BB: Du sollst ihre Hand nehmen. Und in die Augen blicken.
[Another stagehand lifts a placard saying "You should take her hand." Another has the following printed on his T shirt: "And look into her eyes." Both move across the stage as though they were just moving props around.]
VG: [taking her hand and looking into her eyes] Uhhhhh. I'll be happy to answer your questions, my dear. Why don't we get together after the rehearsal?
BB: [pleased] Jawohl, jawohl!
A1: [smiling] Oh wow! Oh that would be really neat! I'll be looking for you. [waves]
VG: [waves back -- stares at the girl -- the Secretary nudges him] Now. We must get to work. We haff a play to rehearse. [looking at the Secretary and whispering] What do I do now?
T: [to VG] Why don't you have them go over Scene 4? They worked on it yesterday all day.
VG: OK, effrybody, we're going over Scene 4. Places, places!
[The stagehands set up the props for Scene 4, which takes place in Madame Begbick's portable Canteen. Everyone takes their places. Much whispering.]
VG: Silence, please.
S: [clapping hands loudly] SILENCE.
[All is suddenly dead silent, except for the Professor, whose lecture has been continuing throughout. Everyone but him freezes and his lecture continues on by itself for about 3 or 4 minutes. As he speaks, Brecht gradually makes his way to the lectern. Finally reaching a point just behind the Professor, facing the audience, he cries, very loudly:]
BB: SCHWEIG! STILL!
[The professor, who has continued speaking without paying any attention to him, is, on the word "STILL," suddenly silent, freezing. For a few seconds, all are silent. Then a very deep gong is struck. All the lights go out, except for the light of a Jewish memorial (Yohrzeit) candle placed at center stage rear. This candle, in full view, is always kept lit. It's so dim, however, that it can only be seen when all the other lights are out. Everyone is suddenly frozen in place and silent until the sound of the gong has completely died away. At that moment, the lights are turned on again and the dialogue resumes with the following scene, from Brecht's Mann ist Mann. This time the violet-cloaked figure appears (at extreme stage right) only after the lights have come up again. As the following dialogue proceeds he slowly makes his way across the stage, remaining as much as possible in the background, to disappear behind the curtain at stage left.]
[At the moment the lights are turned back on, March Music begins. Three soldiers, Uriah, Polly and Jesse enter, marching smartly in step over all parts of the stage and the audience area as well. When the march is over, they enter the canteen where the Widow Begbick is preparing a table.]
Uriah: Is this the canteen for the Eighth Regiment?
Polly: Are we addressing its owner, the world renowned Widow Begbick? We are the machine gunners of the Eighth Regiment.
Begbick: I see only three of you. Where is your fourth gunner?
[Galy Gay enters, carrying a cigar and a menu. He is dressed exactly as VG was in Scenes 1 and the beginning of Scene 2.]
GG: This is a terrific cigar! And I love this place. Music. Fancy menus. Pretty waitresses. Look, they've even got Chicauqua sauce. It's a side dish. Chicauqua sauce, imagine. What a place. With connections you can get anything you want in this town. It's who you know, that's it.
Jesse: My dear sir. You are in a position to do a small favor for three poor people in a difficult situation, without going to hardly any trouble at all.
Polly: One of us hasn't arrived yet, he's saying goodbye to his wife, and if we're not all present and accounted for at roll-call there'll be the Devil to pay.
Uriah: It would therefore be a great help to us if you would put on this uniform. You just need to be there for roll-call, that's it. Just for the record.
Polly: A cigar more or less, that you perhaps thereby wish to smoke at our expense, naturally plays no part in this matter.
GG: Look, I'm sorry, I've gotta get going. Gotta get home to the wife, you know. We can't always do what we'd like, I'm afraid.
Jesse: I thank you. I expected -- I openly confess -- this sort of response from you. That's it: You cannot do as you would like. You would like to go home, but you cannot. I thank you, my dear sir, for justifying the confidence you inspired in us when we first set eyes on you. Your hand, dear sir!
VG: [to himself] This all sounds so familiar. How strange -- now where would I have heard this before?
Uriah: Permit us to garb you for this purpose in the honorable vestments of the great British army. Widow Begbick, can I speak openly with you? We need a complete outfit.
Begbick: I just happen to have exactly the right thing in my tote bag. [holds up a huge cloth bag] A little "souvenir," shall we say, left in my wagon some time ago and then -- forgot. [bitterly:] Forgotten.
Jesse: Honestly, this just has to do with a little joke.
Begbick: A joke. Ah so.
Polly: Isn't that, perhaps, true, Sir? Doesn't this just have to do with a joke?]
GG: Yah. I suppose. It has to do, I guess, with a -- cigar. [laughs -- then all laugh]
VG: [to himself] Hmmmm. This is getting stranger and stranger. I'm not sure I like it.
GG: What's this all about, actually?
Jesse: Actually, nothing at all.
GG: Won't it be dangerous if someone finds out?
Polly: Not at all. And for you, one time is no time.
GG: True enough. Einmal ist keinmal. One time is no time, so they say.
BB: BB: [Chants over and over again, very slowly, as in a trance] Einmal keinmal einmal keinmal einmal keinmal [etc.]
[As BB chants, he walks from behind the lectern onto the stage, then aimlessly from one place to another, always repeating the phrase "Einmal keinmal' which continues as the scene progresses. Everyone but VG, S and T ignores him.]
[Begbick starts dressing GG.]
GG: Too small. I won't be able to get into it.
[Begbick struggles to get the jacket on him -- it's so small, his arms remain outstretched to the sides -- then she gets down on her hands and knees, and starts lacing a pair of shoes on his feet.]
GG: And the shoes really pinch. Ow!
Uriah: Entirely too small. Useless. Two schillings, no more! [to GG] Here pal, have another cigar for your trouble. And a beer.
[GG finally gets into the uniform, with much "business" juggling the cigar and beer.]
A Soldier: Roll call, roll call. A man's missing, so they're calling the roll and checking ID's.
Uriah: [to GG] Here's your ID. All you have to do is call out our pal's name, OK? Nothing to it.
Polly: [to GG] The guy's name is Jip. Jeraiah Jip.
GG: Jeraiah Jip.
A Soldier: Machine gunners fall in. Roll call. Names!
Polly: Polly Baker.
Uriah: Uriah Shelley.
Jesse: Jesse Mahoney.
GG: J-Jeraiah Jip!
[the soldier continues, marching offstage]
GG: [to the audience] Well, a little favor among friends can't hurt can it? You see, live and let live. I'm enjoying my beer and saying to myself: I've been of use to these folks. And that's what really matters isn't it, that one just once sends up a little balloon and says
[GG and VG speak the next line simultaneously.]
GG: "Jeraiah Jip"
VG: [to himself] "Bertolt Brecht."
[All freeze for about ten seconds. Then the scene continues as before]
GG: just as easily as one might say "good evening," and you're what people want you to be.
VG: [to himself] What do these people want from me?
The Secretary: [clapping her hands briskly] Needs work. Needs work. Remember, do NOT try to identify with your character. Maintain a distance. Be objective. Never mind for now. Can we please skip to scene 8? SCENE 8? Places everyone.
VG: [a bit confused] Yes. Places, places.
S: [loud!] PLACES!!!!
[the same scene. GG is fast asleep on a chair.]
Polly: Jip will return, wait and see.
Jesse: Jip won't let his buddies down like that, would he?
Uriah: You never know.
[all freeze for about 10 seconds]
Polly: Jip won't be back, will he?
Jesse: I don't think so, no.
Uriah: This guy's our only hope -- what's his name, Galy Gay -- from Kilkoa?
Polly: But all we have is this ID.
Uriah: That's enough. There has to be a new Jip. One makes too much fuss over people. One is none.
BB: [once again starts chanting] Einer ist keiner einer ist keiner einer ist keiner einer ist keiner einer ist keiner einer ist keiner. [etc.]
Uriah: There's nothing whatsoever to be said of less than 200 people at once. No matter how it's going to work out for him eventually, we must have a real flesh and blood Jeraiah Jip. Wake him up!
[they stride back to the chair -- Polly shakes GG awake -- he blinks and rubs his eyes.]
Polly: Sir, it's lucky you haven't left. Are you Irish by any chance?
GG: Irish, yes -- uh, I think so.
Polly: Good, good. Do you have flat feet?
GG: Yes, as a matter of fact I do.
Polly: That does it. Your happiness is assured. You can remain with us.
GG: Unfortunately, I'm afraid my wife's waiting for me. Because of a fish.
[Commotion backstage. People are walking around, talking loudly. The actors try to ignore this.]
Polly: We understand how you feel. You are a gentleman and an Irishman. But we do think you'll fill the bill.
Jesse: There may well be an opening for you to become a soldier.
GG: [pauses] You don't want to make me miserable, do you?
Uriah: You mean you want to . . .
GG: Leave. Yes. I want to leave, I am leaving now.
Polly: Any reason you don't want to be Jeraiah Jip?
GG: Because I'm [hesitates] Galy Gay.
[more commotion backstage -- a woman's voice is speaking very insistently.]
Uriah: Just wait a minute longer. We may be able to offer you a deal.
GG: A deal? Did I hear you say a deal? What kind of deal?
Polly: A sure fire deal. You can make a real killing. No risk whatever.
GG: Really? Just for being someone else? For a just a little while?
Bloody Five enters: There's a lady back here looking for someone named "Galy Gay."
GG: Galy Gay. She's looking for a "Galy Gay"?
Dean Fairchild: [from backstage] There's a lady back here looking for someone named "Victor Grauer"? [appearing onstage, opposite the area where the actors are rehearsing, with a very young looking woman.] Is there a "Victor Grauer" here?
VG: Victor Grauer? "Victor Grauer"? What's going on?
DF: Please come in Mrs. Gay. Here's someone who knows your husband. [introduces her to GG.]
Mrs. GG: Excuse me, please, everyone, and please excuse the way I'm dressed. I was in a hurry. Oh, there you are, Galy Gay. But is it really you in that uniform?
Mrs. Grauer: [on the opposite side of the stage, not aware of the actors] Please excuse me everyone and please excuse the way I look, I must be a mess. I was in a terrible hurry. Oh, there you are, Victor. But is it really you in that weird outfit?
[The two vignettes, involving Mrs. Gay and Mrs. Grauer, play out more or less simultaneously, with a certain amount of overlap, on opposite sides of the stage.]
GG and VG together: No.
Mrs. GG: I don't understand you. Why are you in uniform? It's not very becoming. You're such a strange one, Galy Gay.
Mrs. Grauer: I don't understand. Why are you wearing this outfit? Who cut your hair? It looks awful. You're such a strange one, Victor Grauer.
S: [to Mrs. Grauer] I'm sorry, madame. Don't you see we're rehearsing a play?
Uriah, S and T: This woman is nuts, out of her head.
Mrs. GG and Mrs. VG together: It's not an easy thing. Being married to a man who can't say no.
GG and VG together: Who's this woman talking to?
VG: And besides, we're no longer really married.
Uriah: She's just insulting our intelligence is all.
Bloody Five and Dean Fairchild together: I think this woman is perfectly sane. Please continue, madame, your voice is music to my ears.
Mrs. GG: What are you up to now, with your crazy schemes? Is this yet another disaster in the making? Oh my oh my. What are you doing here? Cat got your tongue? Speak up!
GG: Are you addressing me, madame? You've got me mixed up with someone else and what you're saying about him is just plain silly.
Mrs. VG: What's going on here? Is this some sort of play? I ran into your friend Sam and he told me he saw you entering this building. What are you doing here? I've got to talk to you. Don't pretend with me. Don't just stand there. Speak up.
VG: I don't understand. I'm not the person you think I am, madame. You've confused me with someone else and what you're thinking about him is extremely unfair.
Mrs. GG: [sobbing] I put up the water for the fish, but you never returned.
Mrs. VG: [rummaging in her purse] I had the divorce papers all ready for you to sign. Next thing I know you've vanished into thin air.
GG and VG together: Very fishy business, very very fishy indeed.
Bloody Five and Dean Fairchild together: Tell this young lady your name then.
GG: J-Jeraiah Jip
DF: [looking suspiciously at VG] And you? Who are you, sir?
VG: Me? Who am I? Why I'm the bloody author of this ridiculous play, that's who.
S, T, Mrs. VG and Dean Fairchild, together: And who might THAT be?
VG: Someone dumb enough to concoct such an absurd scene, where some wife looking for her husband just barges in, disrupts the whole story, spoils all the fun and tries to make a complete laughing stock and fool out of an innocent man, a man just trying as hard as he can to please everyone, a man who just wants his name left out of it.
S and T: Someone who can't say no. Yes?
VG: Yes. NO. I CAN say no! I WILL say no. I'm NOT going through with this farce, it's too much, I can't stand this, I don't know myself who I am anymore, I need a vacation. [Facing BB] And here's your damned cigar! [Throws it at BB]
[storms off stage]
[All freeze -- the professor "wakes up" and resumes his lecture where it left off -- after about a minute, the others "awaken," look at one another, acting puzzled, scratching their heads, shrugging, etc., and gradually make their way off stage, leaving only the Secretary, the Translator and BB, all three still "frozen." They wait quietly until the professor completes his lecture and leaves. Then:]
T: [to S] Idiot! You went too far. Why rehearse those particular scenes?
S: Dummkopf! I was testing him. Had to see how tough he was, whether he could handle this charade. Too much is at stake. We can't take any chances, we need someone absolutely reliable. And I had no idea his wife was going to barge in. What an absolute farce! There's a lot of money involved in this directing deal. And they're even talking about giving "Brecht" tenure. At $100,000 per year, darling. Think about that!
T: Fool! So what do you propose we do?
S: Jackass! You know. We've discussed it a thousand times. Plan B.
BB: Ahhh Soooo! Plan B. Ja! Ja!
S & T: Before the sun sets next time, this man will be translated into another man.
BB: Jawohl, ein Mann is wie der andere. Mann ist Mann.
[All raise their right hands with index finger in the air, as though about to make an important point. They face the audience.]
[to the tune of the "Fugue on Science," from Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra.]
S: "Mann ist Mann" . . .
T: is "man is man" . . .
B: "Man is man"
T: ist "Mann ist Mann".
S: "Man is man" is
T: "Mann ist Mann" ist
B: "Man is man".
T: is IS.
T: is IST.
S: IST ist IS.
B: IST ist IST.
T: IS is IST
S: IST ist IS
S & T: "IS is IS"
S & T: "IST ist IST".
B: "IST ist IST" ist "IST ist IST".
S: IS ist IS.
T: IST is IST
B: Ist is ist?
S&T: Und . . .
B: Vest is Vest.
All three: Und ALSO:
S: Mann is Mann
T: Man ist man
B: Mann is man
S: Man ist Mann
T: Mann ist man
S: Man is Mann
B: [goes to the professor's blackboard. Erases it. Writes: Mann = man]
End of Scene 3.
The Professor's Lecture on Mann ist Mann, in full:
Mann ist Mann. A play by Bertolt Brecht, performed for the first time in Darmstadt in 1926. "Mann ist Mann." An untranslatable phrase, really. The German word "ist" [he writes it on the blackboard] means "is" [on the blackboard: "ist = is"]. Man is man. But dig it, the same sound can also stand for a different word, "isst" [writes it], which means "eats" [on the bb: "isst = eats"]. Man eats man. According to Brecht, and I quote: "It concerns the technical dismantling and reassembling of a human being into another kind for a particular purpose." Creepy!
The thing began as a sketch, named after the principal character, someone named "Galgei." Later, Brecht decides to change the setting of the play from Germany to India, Kipling's India, the India of the British occupation and the British army -- colonialism, right? The main character becomes an Irish porter named "Galy Gay." Only in German this name is pronounced "Golly Guy." "Galgei." "Golly Guy." As you can see, he's interested in the sound his words make. So translating this stuff can be a heck of a job.
As Brecht works on the play and, over the years, revises it, he seeks out the help of various friends, most notably Elizabeth Hauptmann, his secretary and also his lover, who collaborated on many projects and possibly even wrote some of his plays for him -- and also Emil Burri, Slatan Dudow, Bernhard Reich, and Caspar Neher, a brilliant artist who worked as set designer on many Brecht productions. In keeping, perhaps, with the theme of this play, they called themselves "the Brecht collective."
Mann ist Mann begins with a scene between Galy Gay and his wife. Galy decides to buy a fish for dinner and asks his wife if she requires a large or a small one. His wife is, like him, a humble type. She requests a small one. And off he goes to buy it.
On his way, however, he comes across three soldiers, members of a four man machine gun squad who've lost track of their fourth man. They're scared stiff of their Sargent, a man named "Fairchild," also known as "Bloody Five." As far as he's concerned, any violation of military regulations is a crime punishable by death. If all four of them aren't there for roll call, there'll be Hell to pay.
As they speak with our hero, it turns out he's just the man they need. He's innocent, agreeable and, moreover, has a characteristic they really love: the guy simply can't say "no." With the aid of a bribe in the form of a cigar, they easily manipulate him into going along with their scheme, dressing up like a soldier and impersonating their fourth man, Jeraiah Jip, at roll call.
So far so good. But when it becomes clear the real Jeraiah Jip is never going to return, the mood of the play turns positively ominous. Galy Gay, who was simply impersonating Jip, now must actually become him. The soldiers feel they have no choice but to permanently transform this gentle, innocent little guy into the hardened machine gunner, Jeraiah Jip. After all, in the words of Uriah: "One man is like any other. Mann ist Mann."
At first, Galy Gay resists. But then the soldiers very cleverly lay a deal on him, the chance to play middle man in a sleazy, but profitable scam, involving the sale of an elephant. It's in this scene we see the beginnings of Brecht's obsession with the workings of capitalism. Galy Gay's weakness for a sure fire, risk-free deal wins out over his better judgement. So, when his wife, who's been looking all over for him, finally finds him, he tries to convince her he is not who she thinks he is, but someone else. When she insists, he and his newly found "pals" treat her like a crazy person. So powerful is the lure of the deal, this simple, henpecked man, who cannot say "no," is able to deny his very existence to the one person in the world who knows him best and loves him most for what he is.
But really, there's no deal at all. His desperate "pals" are pulling a fast one on him. No sooner has he accepted a check, then they denounce him, or pretend to denounce him, as a swindler, a crime punishable in the military by death. The soldiers see that he is quickly "convicted" and suddenly there he is, standing before a firing squad, trying to convince everyone, including himself, he's not who he is, he's not Galy Gay, he's someone else, Jeraiah Jip. The soldiers fire a barrage of blanks, but he's sure it's all for real, is sure he's a goner, and faints dead away.
He wakes up to find himself at his own funeral. "Galy Gay"'s been executed. Our hero is totally confused. His pals are now calling him "Jeraiah Jip," so that's who he's become -- for real. To make a long story short, he gets used to it, enjoys being a soldier, a "human killing machine" -- and winds up a big shot -- military hero. Happy ending!
Pretty strange, eh? But what's it all about, really, what's the point? One man gets transformed into another. Because, according to Brecht, you can DO that. You can take a man apart like a car and then put him together again differently. This is a play about identity, about the human being as a machine -- no soul, just various parts, parts that can be reassembled. A bit like Frankenstein's monster, no? Scary! What about his soul? Well, that's modernism for you -- and Brecht was a modernist that's for sure. God is Dead. Man HAS no soul.
Modernism, following Freud, reveals the human subject as hopelessly split. This theme is carried over in the writings of the contemporary Freudian feminist, Julia Kristeva, who writes of the sujet en process, that is, "the subject in process" or "the subject on trial," or "the questionable subject." Unlike the more traditional unified, or integral subject, a subject identical with itself, sure of itself, confident, Kristeva's sujet en process is unsure, problematic, in perpetual crisis, open to question and, above all, continually open to revision, alteration, change.
It is this sort of subject which Brecht, back in the Twenties, called "the new man." As he then wrote, "What matters most is that a new human type should now be evolving, at this very moment, and that the entire interest of the world should be concentrated on his development." Referring to his new play, he continues: "But it struck me that all sorts of things in Mann ist Mann will probably seem odd to you at first -- especially what the central figure, the porter Galy Gay, does or does not do." For Brecht, Galy Gay is an ancestor of the new human type. He goes on to describe him thus: "a great liar and an incorrigible optimist; he can fit in with anything, almost without difficulty. He seems to be used to putting up with a great deal. It is in fact very seldom that he can allow himself an opinion of his own. . . I imagine that you are used to treating a man as a weakling if he can't say no, but this Galy Gay is by no means a weakling; on the contrary, he is the strongest of all. That is to say he becomes the strongest once he has ceased to be a private person; he only becomes strong in the mass. . . No doubt you will go on to say that it's a pity that a man should be tricked like this and simply forced to surrender his precious ego, all he possesses (as it were); but it isn't. It's a jolly business. For this Galy Gay comes to no harm; he wins. And a man who adopts such an attitude is bound to win." [from Brecht on Theater, ed. and trans. by John Willett, 1964, pp. 18-19.]
"There are two aspects to the theme of [Galy Gay's] transformation, the loss of individuality, which [he] suffers as a sign of the times (the age of mass production), and the gain of a new identity which he acquires as a member of a collective. There might be two different responses to this dual view: the bourgeois side might see it as a warning against such a transformation and that is how the play is often received; the communist side would see it as an affirmation that the individual is defined not in opposition to a collective but through its support. The 'comedy' as Brecht called it, tends to play off one view against the other. . ." [from Elizabeth Wright, Postmodern Brecht, Routledge 1989, pp. 33-36.]
"When Brecht wrote Mann ist Mann, he expressed great enthusiasm for technological innovations and the changes of which humanity, aided by science, was capable. He praised Galy Gay as an example of malleable human identity made possible after the revolution in Russia and other parts of Europe. The subjugation of an individual identity to that of a collective was endorsed . . . by the decision of the co-authors to call themselves "The Brecht Collective." [from Joel Schechter, "Brecht's Clowns: Man is Man and After," in The Cambridge Companion to Brecht, ed. Thomson and Sacks, Cambridge U. Press, 1994, p. 74.]
"Galy Gay's reassembly is shown as a farce, yet it is connected with the economic principle of its time. Brecht's play is not an expression of the New Objectivity, but rather a demonstration of its laws: man is nothing without social/economic relations. He becomes an individual only when inserted into them. . ."
"Man is Man is a comedy which plays with its material in a variety of ways: the audience is addressed; the action commented upon; figures speak of themselves in the third person; Brecht is cited in the text; there is a large element of clowning which serves as a method of demonstration; Galy Gay himself reflects on his own fortunes. Brecht is the demonstrator, the director of the play within the play, distancing the audience from the happenings on the stage, presenting them with the lesson that reality in the theatre is an analogy to reality in life, since in each case interventions may be made and events can be played and re-played differently." [from Elizabeth Wright, Postmodern Brecht, Routledge 1989, pp. 33-36.]
Have a great weekend, kiddies. And remember. The mid-term is next Wednesday.