I Bertolt Brecht
by Victor A. Grauer
Voice from loudspeakers: Act I, Scene 5. Very confusing. Our hero has been taken to a mysterious laboratory, where Brecht and his cohorts arrange a phoney trial based closely on the trial scene in Mann ist Mann. Meanwhile, at the same time, at the nearby University, the students rehearse this very scene under the direction of Dean Fairchild. For some odd reason, perhaps to save time, our author has contrived to bounce these two trials off of one another. So don't get confused. Brecht's trial scene is on stage right. To your left. Our hero's trial is on stage left. To your right. I'm getting crosseyed just thinking about it.
[The stage is divided into two sections, with two different sets. At stage center is an elevated desk and behind it a chair. At stage right we see the Mann ist Mann set of scene 3, full of lights, ladders, various army props, etc. At stage left we see a scene right out of the original screen version of Frankenstein, complete with all sorts of old fashioned electrical apparatus but also at least one up to date computer. Two large, long medical tables are decked out with straps. At the center of this area is an elevated chair.
As the scene opens, all is totally dark. We hear the rumblings of distant thunder, which gets louder and louder. Suddenly there are some tremendous claps of thunder accompanied by "lightning" flashes, which flit back and forth between the two sets, briefly illuminating each and finally settling on the Mann ist Mann set, which remains brightly illuminated while the other set returns to total darkness. At this point, the student cast of Mann ist Mann trickles in, accompanied by the Professor and Dean Fairchild. When all are assembled, Dean Fairchild speaks.]
DF: [clapping her hands briskly] Students. I want to apologize for what happened yesterday. It seems we might all be victims of fraud [turns to stare accusingly at the Professor]. Herr "Brecht" and his assistants may not be who they have claimed to be. This matter is currently under investigation. In the meantime, I have decided to take over the rehearsals of our play. According to my schedule, it's now time to rehearse the second part of Scene 9, the trial scene.
In the first part of this scene, as you know, the three soldiers trick Galy Gay into getting involved in a business deal, involving a phoney elephant.
The Professor: This scene reflects Brecht's budding interest in socio-economic issues. Dig it, the soldiers offer the guy a "deal" he can't turn down, the chance to make a fast buck with no risk whatsoever. Sound familiar? Huge profit with no risk? The Great American Dream? The innocent working stiff is suddenly given the opportunity to play the role of middleman and Brecht has an opportunity to take some shots at capitalism. Our hero agrees to take part only on one condition: "Leave my name out of it." Major theme. Individual identity. Galy Gay trades his identity, his name, for the opportunity to take part in a deal he knows is phoney.
DF: Whatever. The elephant turns out to be just two men dressed as an elephant, covered over, basically, by a large military map.
P: It's obvious, even to Galy Gay, that there is something totally phoney about this elephant, but the guy cares Nada once he discovers there's an innocent buyer who can be duped. Commodity value gives way to use value, if you've read your Marx.
DF: Whatever. He agrees to play the role of go between, the widow Begbick pretends to go along with the transaction . . .
P: But from the beginning, the fix is in. Our guy is being set up. No sooner is the deal done, then he's arrested for fraud, all prearranged, of course, by his army "buddies."
DF: DUH!!!! Professor, will you please stop interrupting? We've all read the play. I was just trying to set forth some sort of motivation for our students, help them to focus.
P: Oh sorry. Sorry, Emman . . . uh, I mean, Dean Fairchild.
DF: We don't need a lecture at this point in time, is that all right with you?
P: Yes, sure, sorry.
DF: OK, so he's caught in a fraudulent deal, he's arrested and now, in this, section three of scene nine, he's put on trial.
P: I think this scene, with its focus on the identity of Galy Gay, is a perfect illustration of Julia Kristeva's notion of le sujet en proces -- that's French, and can be translated in several different ways. Oh sorry, sorry. But we're just now covering Kristeva in my Postmodernism class and I thought . . .
DF: [sighs] Oh alright, continue -- complete the thought.
[At this point a banner displaying the words "LE SUJET EN PROCES" is lowered from above at stage center.]
P: It can mean "the subject in process," or "the subject on trial" or "the questionable subject," the subject "open to question." All of which meanings can apply here.
DF: Well certainly they can! Now places everyone, let's read through the scene. PLACES!!!!
[All now freeze. Sounds of thunder from the loudspeakers. As above, "lightning" plays back and forth between the two sides of the stage, this time settling on stage left, which is now illuminated while stage right is plunged into darkness. Led by BB, the Secretary and the Translator appear, carrying an unconscious VG.]
BB: Schnell! Quickly! Seat him here. [They lift him, seating him in the elevated chair.] Tie him down. [They tie his arms and legs to the chair.] Now slap him around a bit. Wake him!
VG: [Awakening.] What's happened? Did I shoot myself? Where am I?
[Another clap of thunder. More lightning flashes. This time both sides of the stage remain illuminated.]
The student playing Uriah now strides from stage right to center stage, taking his place in the chair behind the desk.
Uriah [Pounding a gavel on the desk several times]: Scene Nine, Secton Three: The Trial of the Man Who Wants His Name Left Out of It. Form a circle around the miscreant and question him and don't stop till the naked truth has been revealed!
[from this point on the action takes place on both sets. The students acting out the scene from Mann ist Mann are (with the exception of Uriah) all on stage right. The Secretary, Translator, BB, and VG remain on stage left. On each set, all now form a circle around either GG or VG.]
GG: Do I have permission to speak?
Uriah: [Turning to stage right.] You've said quite enough tonight, my friend. Now exactly who was it that tried to auction off that elephant?
A Soldier: [from stage right] His name was Galy Gay.
Uriah: [Turning to stage left.] Now exactly who was it that tried to get tenure at the University by falsifying his credentials?
The Translator: [from stage left] His name was Victor Grauer.
Uriah: [Looking straight ahead] Does the accused have anything to say in his own defense?
GG: He was someone who wanted his name left out of it.
VG: Yeah! Out of it!
A Soldier: I heard him say he was Galy Gay.
T: I heard him say he was Victor Grauer.
Uriah: [Looking straight ahead] That's you, isn't it?
GG: Well suppose that was my name, what of it?
VG: Yeah! What of it?
Uriah: Well are you or are you not who they say you are?
GG & VG in unison: No, I am definitely NOT!
Uriah: [facing stage right] Now this elephant business. Something very crooked there, no? This fellow was selling a phoney elephant.
Soldier: A so-called elephant. Alls it was was a big piece of paper was what it was.
Uriah: Sounds like the death penalty to me. What have you to say for yourself?
GG: Maybe another elephant would not have mistaken him for an elephant your honor. This is all so confusing.
Uriah: [facing stage left] Now this tenure business, what's that all about?
T: This so-called Bertolt Brecht character. Signs a big piece of paper, clearly a forgery is what it was. So he could get tenure at a big University, which he was never able to get on his own.
VG: What are you saying? You put me up to this yourself. I mean. Actually . . . Actually I don't know anything about this, your honor. Nothing at all.
S: What's more, your honor, this man is probably a spy. And besides, he's probably a wife beater. And definitely someone who wants to have his name left out of it when asked to sign a petition to help others in need.
T: Someone who doesn't want his name mentioned out of fear he'll be held accountable.
S: Someone who's on the run from his loving wife just because she wants a divorce.
T: Someone who was politically active as a young man but no longer wants to get involved, so wants his name left out of it, someone who has betrayed the ideals of his youth.
S: An idealist.
T: Who continually insists that art should be above life, that the artist is someone with a license to be irresponsible, to ignore the needs of others . . .
S: A formalist, your honor, guilty of left deviation . . .
T: An elitist, guilty of right deviation, definitely a spy, possibly for Japan . . .
S: Or Indonesia or China, maybe all of them, or more.
T & S in unison: Passing himself off as a great champion of the people, the magnificent playwright and poet, Bertolt Brecht. Whom he is NOT! NO!
Uriah: [Looking at VG] Are you by any chance trying to pass yourself of as this great man, Bertolt Brecht?
VG: No, that's absurd. And I never beat my wife! And besides, he was never really all that great either. You know, I could see right through him.
T: [quietly, to S] Unless, of course, he might actually BE him after all.
S: In which case . . .
[Now the two scenes, at stage left and stage right, play out simultaneously]:
GG: Can you hear what they're saying? Are they saying I'm this Galy Gay person?
Soldier: They're saying they're not sure.
GG: Well remember: one man is no man.
Jesse [arriving on stage right]: Hey, is that Galy Gay sitting up there?
GG:You're mistaken, Jesse, take a good look at me.
Jesse: I heard it's someone named Galy Gay who's been condemned to death.
Jesse: Hey, aren't you Galy Gay?
GG: I'm sweating, Jesse, can you see it, I'm sweating.
VG: [to BB] Can you hear what they're saying? Are they saying I might actually BE you?
BB: They're saying they're not sure.
VG: Well . . . One man is no man, is what you said, didn't you say that? Well, take a good look at me. What do you think? Am I you? Or myself. Or both?
BB: I heard it's someone named Victor Grauer who's been condemned. Seems he's a spy, or worse, someone who doesn't want his name named -- when they name names. Isn't that you?
VG: I'm sweating, my friend, can you see it, I'm sweating. Just think, I was about to shoot myself, but now I'm afraid of being shot. Art for the sake of art. I only wanted to make art no one could use, I was proud of that. If you could use it it wasn't art, it was craft, art was "above" it all, something that existed in the realm of the universal, the "transcendent." Was I just dreaming my life away? If a work of art has no use does that mean it's useless? In your day you were a great champion. Of the people. You made yourself useful, sacrificed your great gifts for the good of all. Is this what I should have done? Is it possible for someone like me to become like you? To become you? Too late. Too late. Too late. I suppose . . .
[Sudden blackout. Total darkness for 10 seconds. Then the lights return, on both sides.]
Uriah: Scene Nine, Section Four. The Execution of Galy Gay and Victor Grauer for high crimes and misdemeanors. [pause] Listen carefully, Mister man who shall remain nameless when they name names, this is my verdict, you are to be shot by firing squad until you are dead.
GG & VG in unison: You can't do that to me.
Uriah: Come, come. Buck up! Be a man. March over here where they can shoot you.
GG & VG [not in unison this time, each one says the same lines in his own way]: You're being far too hasty, I'm not the one you're after, you're making a big mistake, I've never even met that person. My name is [Jeriah Jip] [Bertolt Brecht] I swear! What is [an elephant] [tenure] compared to a man's life? Don't abandon me, you don't understand, I am not [Galy Gay] [Victor Grauer] I am not, no, not really.
Jesse and Translator: C'mon, MARCH!!!
GG: What are you talking about?
VG: I'm not the one you're after, believe me.
GG: All I was going to do was go out and buy a
GG: Yes. A fish.
VG: But where can you find fish on the dry ground, eh?
[The others all pull pistols out of their pockets.]
GG: Yes, where? And what are you doing with those guns?
VG: And that military music, what's that all about, those drums?
GG: Wait! Stop! This won't do at all. It's much too dark. Let me light a candle. [Pulls a Jewish memorial candle out of his pocket. VG walks over to stage right, pulls out a book of matches and lights GG's candle. GG holds the candle between himself and VG, who reaches back for a small spotlight, which he switches on, illuminating the lit candle. Both of them hold their lights aloft, the candle and the spotlight, over their heads, with the spotlight still aiming at the candle. ]
Uriah: [to the soldier] What are you doing, mate? That's a live round you're putting in that chamber.
Soldier: Oops, almost forgot. Oh my, that would have been a mistake, a real disaster, sorry.
Uriah: All right, now everyone. Ready on your mark, get set. One. Two. Three. Fire!
[GG and VG embrace. Then both scream, and fall to the ground in a faint.]
Polly: Wow. They fell on their own.
Uriah: Fire! So they can hear they're dead.
[All fire into the air.]
Uriah: OK, everyone, move it, let's get out of here.
[All but BB and the "dead" pair march off. Only GG and VG remain, unconscious, in a heap on the ground.]
Dean Fairchild's voice can be heard over the loudspeaker system: OK everyone, not bad, not bad.
The Professor's voice: Remember folks, this is "Epic Theater" ala Brecht. Keep it crisp, keep it light, keep it detached. Think "Alienation Affect," Kapeesh?
DF: Really, Professor. Try to control yourself. Let's break for dinner, everyone. Ciao!
BB: [in the dark] Jawohl! Sehr gut! Wunderbar! All is going according to plan. Now you two, come back here. Carry him back to the laboratory. We have work to do.
[T and S return onstage, carrying lit flashlights, and carry VG back to the stage left area. They then go offstage again, returning with a large wooden coffin. The remainder of the scene is lit by flashlights only.]
BB: What success! Our man has been deconstructed.
S: Now he must be . . .
[The voice of the Translator, heard over the loudspeaker system]: Scene Five, Section Five. Memorial service and burial of Galy Gay . . . I mean, Victor Grauer -- last of the rugged individualists. In the momentous year Two Thousand and nothing.
VG: [awakening, looking at the coffin] What on Earth is that?
S: Someone they just shot.
VG: Oh really? Who?
S: I think his name was. Let me think. Victor . . . Grauer.
VG: Oh. So what now? What will they do with him?
VG: This Victor Grauer.
S: They will bury him.
VG: Was he a good man or a bad man?
S: He was a dangerous man.
T: [addressing VG] Bert! There you are, Bert! I've been looking for you. We need you to speak at this guy Victor's funeral, no one knew him as well as you.
VG: What did you call me?
T: I called you "Bert."
VG: Say, "Bert, walk around a bit."
T: Bert, walk around a bit.
[VG walks around in increasingly large concentric circles till he stumbles on the coffin]
VG: Is this his coffin?
[from here till the next time VG faints, there is a rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning which get increasingly intense]
BB: [walking to the rear of stage center] Ich koennt nicht ansehen ohne sofortigen Tod
In einer Kist ein entleertes Gesicht
Eines Gewissen, mir einst bekannt, von Wasserflaech her
In die einer sah, der, wie ich weiss, verstarb.
Drum kann ich nicht aufmachen diese Kist.
Weil diese Furcht da ist in mir beiden, denn vielleicht
Bin ich der Beide, der eben erst entstand
Auf der Erde veraenderlicher Oberflaech:
Ein abgenabelt fledermaesig Ding, hangend
Zwischen Gummibaeumen und Huett, naechtlich
Ein Ding, das gern heiter waer.
Einer is keiner. Es muss ihn einer anrufen. . .
Und ich, die eine ich und der andere ich
Werden gebraucht und sind also brauchbar.
Und hab ich nicht angesehen diesen Elefanten
Drueck ich ein Auge zu, was mich betrifft
Und lege ab, was unbeliebt an mir, und bin
[shortly after BB begins, Galy Gay arises from the floor and recites with him this translation of the same. As he does so, VG appears with a Jewish Memorial candle, places it on the judge's desk and lights it.]:
GG: I cannot force myself, on pain of death
To gaze into a coffin at the pale face
Of someone I once knew from the water's surface,
Into which one looked, who, as I know, has died.
Thus I can't open this coffin.
Because this fear is there in me both, then perhaps
I am that both, something which first arose
On Earth's primitive surface:
An upside down batlike thing hanging
Between gum trees and hut, nightly,
A thing that would gladly be cheerful.
But one is none. There must also be someone to call him. . .
I, the one I and the other I,
Were used and are therefore of use.
Oh had I never set eyes on that elephant
And closed my eyes to what matters most.
Now I'll leave aside that which makes me disagreeable
And be pleasant.
VG: [after lighting the candle, VG moves to the front and center, addressing the audience as BB and GG continue]:
I will not force myself, on pain of death,
To look too closely into this scheme of theirs,
Reflected in the watery mirror of my own text.
Because this fear still haunts me of being both
What I am and what I might dare become.
I see what they are up to.
I, the one I and the other I, in sum,
Were used and therefore can be useful,
Which is what I now most want to be.
To that end, I'll leave aside that which in us both would disagree
And go along, agreeably, with their plan, as you shall see.
BB: [addressing VG] So, Mr. man without a name, this Victor Grauer person will soon be buried and gone. What shall we call you now?
VG: Bertolt? Bert?
T: You don't seem very sure.
VG: No I don't, do I? I'm very confused, to be honest. Actually I don't feel very much myself at all. I feel rather sick. [to the audience] Would anyone mind if I fainted all over again? Just one more time? [falls in a faint]
BB: Time for the final segment. One last turn of the screw. Grab him and strap him down here. [Raising his eyes to the heavens:] We need more thunder -- more lightning!
[Thunder. Lightning. The voice of the Translator, heard over the loudspeaker system]: Scene Five, Section Six. The computer controlled transmogrification of the indomitable spirit of the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht into the out-of-shape but reasonably healthy body of one Victor Grauer.
[The thunder and lightning intensify. There is a sudden, brief, blackout, after which the hooded figure in violet appears. He will be continually visible till the end of the scene, but silent, helping with this or that task, but never noticed by any of the others. The Translator (assisted by the hooded figure) straps VG to a table. The Secretary fiddles with various knobs controlling electrical devices which respond in various ways, some with noises or humming sounds, others with flickering lights and electrical flashes. The actions and effects should be modeled on the original movie version of Frankenstein.]
BB: [Strapping himself onto the other table] Hurry. Before he wakes up. This has got to be convincing. He's got to believe my soul will be transmitted into his body.
S: Well, as we all know, you have no soul, do you Bert, darling? So we'd better make all this folderol very convincing indeed! Where did you find this perfectly marvelous stage set? I love it! Look, even these little knobs do something really neat [twiddles some knobs and some lights flash]. I'm actually a bit frightened. Does anyone know how the computer works?
VG: [waking] What's going on? Where am I? This looks like something from a Frankenstein movie. What on Earth are these maniacs up to now?
T: You, my dear sir, are the worst actor I've ever seen. Since you've done such an abominable job of impersonating Brecht, we're going to literally transmogrify you into him.
S: Transmit his soul . . .
T: Into your body. As in that play, The Dybbuk -- ever seen that one? Shock some life back into you, like Frankenstein's monster. So this time and for all time you will be Bertolt Brecht -- for real!
VG: Isn't this measure a bit extreme? Just because he owes you some money?
S: Not just for the money. He needs you to carry on.
T: For the cause.
VG: What cause? All that died out years ago. Haven't you heard, it's over -- and good riddance too. Communism is dead. Socialism is dead. We're living in a whole new world order, soon the free market will be everywhere, transforming the way we all work and do business. Don't you watch TV?
BB: Pah!!! Don't listen to him, he's spouting nonsense. His cousin was a Trotskyite, you know. His Uncle was a petty bourgeois. Our cause must live, we will always have new generations to entertain, educate, indoctrinate, manipulate. Comrades! Engage the apparatus!
VG: No. No! Don't go through with this! I've thought it over and changed my mind. I've gotta be me! I've gotta be me! [sings] I've gotta be me! [winks at the audience]
[The Secretary covers VG's mouth with a bandana and tightens the straps. She and the Translator strap metal helmets onto the heads of both BB and VG. S then goes to the computer, stares at it for a few seconds, then takes the mouse, points and, with great concentration, clicks. Huge display of thunder, lightning, "Frankenstein" type lighting effects, noises, etc. At this point, depending on circumstances, what follows could be either very elaborate or very simple. Extensive multimedia effects and projections could be employed, using all sorts of imagery drawn from historical documentary footage, Hitler, Stalin, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, starving masses of all times and places, etc. Or just a few simple "lightning" flashes could do the trick. When it's all over, there is a blackout and silence for 10 seconds.]
[The Translator switches on his flashlight, pointing it at VG as he is being unstrapped and unhelmeted by the Secretary, who is at the same time sensuously stroking his body.]
S: It worked! I can feel it!
T: Meister. Unsere Brechtmeister. With us once again. In the flesh!
[VG remains silent for a while, staring first at T, then S.]
VG: [snaps his fingers] Zigarre!
[The Translator pulls a cigar out of his pocket and gives it to VG. The Secretary lights it. VG takes a deep drag. Blackout.]
End of Scene 5