Bertolt Brecht's play, "A Man's A Man," a comedy with music, will be presented at Kirby Theatre starting
March 1. The play is directed by Walter Boughton and will feature a score of rock music and lyrics composed
and adapted by Jim Steinman and played by "The Leaves of Grass." Included in the cast are Craig Dunkerly,
Brock Putnam, Toby Webb, Hugh Lawrence, Sarah Harris, David Stewart, and Bill Hart. Tickets are now on
You who live on in towns that passed away
Now show yourselves some mercy, I implore
Do not go marching into some new war
As if the old wars had not had their day
But show yourselves some mercy, I implore ...
Your mothers, to whom all men owe their breath
A war is yours to give or not to give
I beg you mothers, let your children live.
Let them owe you your birth but not your death.
I beg you mothers, let your children live.
From "To my Countrymen" by Bertholt Brecht
About the play, Eric Bentley, the translator, has written : "In one of Brecht's early plays, ‘In the
Swamp,’ a man is, in effect raped by another man. In 'A Man's A Man," a play written a little later, a
man is, in a social sense, raped by a group of men. ‘In the Swamp,’ we blithely say, is about
homosexuality; 'A Man's A Man' is a social play, an anti-war play; but, in Brecht, the two things are
one …… all Brecht's mature plays tend to present social rape, the rape of the individual by a
cruel society, partly because for Brecht sex is less a psychic than a social phenomenon, and even loneliness
is a matter of feeling ‘weaker than another.’ In the foreground of ‘A Man's A Man’
is the question of coercion and domination … the stronger man, the rapist, is, in the end,
discomfited by the weaker, who he
has ‘raped.’ After all, who is stronger, who weaker? … An archetypal modern problem: the
problem of individual identity. For, though there is nothing modern in the question, ‘who am I?’,
characteristically modern is the lack of ‘sense’ of identity, the feeling of I am no one, of
which the feeling. I am more than one person, is a variant … An interpretation of ‘A Man's A
Man’ must reach as far as the White House. Power, super-power is today offering to fill the terrible
void in lives that have no true identity; but this it can never do, since power is itself a void, the
supreme void. What we confront today is a lack of will to find a way out or,
rather, a will not to find a way out: we tend to wish to be destroyed. But, of course, the various statesmen
present this cosmic crisis to their respective peoples as a vulgar melodramatic conflict between their own
High Ideals and the Low Ideals of the enemy — and this, to the universal disaster, adds a touch of the
ridiculous and the obscene."
As hundreds of thousands more are called up every year for their own glorious rape, Brecht's play seems even
more terrifyingly real than ever.
‘Man's A Man’ by Masquers: Exciting, Rousing Drama
by Fred B. D'Agostino '68 Amherst Student
The Amherst Masquers' production of Bertolt Brecht's "A Man's A Man" is probably the most daring and
fascinating theater I have seen in last four years here. I for one can only hope that such
experimentation will continue, as this play was able to capture and manipulate its audiences as little
else that I have seen in the usually museum-like atmosphere of Kirby Theatre. Prof. Walter Boughton
deserves great credit for this courageous and exciting innovation in major theatre here. The play will
be presented again this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
As an experiment, the production itself was not without flaws. But, although these flaws left the
promise of the script not completely fulfilled, my experience was, on the whole, one of arousal and
involvement. The play is strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in the possibilities of
As for an investigation of the flaws, many of the problems which the play itself encounters result
from its inability to match the energy level of the music, a stunning, schizoid and evocative score
written by Jim Steinman '69 and performed by the Amherst rock group, "The Leaves of Grass." The
"Leaves" played with brilliant musicianship, producing torrential out-bursts of amazingly clear,
yet throbbing sound.
Epic theatre is, optimistically, quick in both wit and pacing, stark and almost kaleidoscopic in its
imagery. Brecht is a riverboat comedian in blackface whose gag lines are, at one and the some time,
satiric and much too immediate to be merely funny. It is this inherent ambiguity — between a
superficial, intellectual humor and a deeper, more emotional revulsion at Brecht's stark human
landscapes — that is so successfully evoked by the score, and, for the most part, left
undiscovered by the production itself.
The play itself is really a play within a play and begins rather auspiciously. After a sprawling,
intricate, rock overture, recruits for the Indian army — or for a play about the Indian army? —
are exhorted and in some cases coerced into leaving their seats to "change their clothes into a
uniform." All to the tune of a song, "Is There Anybody Here?" a sardonic recruiting song. The contrast
between the martial pomp that still effects a kind of American Legion pit of the stomach pride and
the despair of what is, supposedly, a "patriotic" song, is one of the most vivid and telling I have
experienced. It is, however, a cheap thrill, a cheap horror. Brecht's sense of the perverse is not of
a bargain basement variety. Clearly, it is up to actors and director to maintain the emotive immediacy
of this opening. Clearly it will not be bought with such crude, though effective theatricality. As
the play progresses, its ironies must sting deeper, must delve further. Here however the
production fails; and fails because it often remains content to wring cheap thrills, cheap laughs
from the audience rather than attempting to challenge the subtlety of the script.
For, in fact, this play draws from good vaudeville a tremendous kinetic motion, a constantly propellant,
accelerating drive that should leave the audience breathless. It should snap back and forth, move from
scene to scene with the clarity and sharpness of a whip-crack. But here scenes are allowed to stand
out "full" and overemphasized, transitions are made deliberately and slowly. The whole sense of the
Kirby production is of some tightly constructed whole with none of the vexing and inexplicably fast
contrasts of true Brechtian vaudeville. The pacing is often that of a slow, amiable, sometimes
languorous amble that better suits television comedy.
Especially slow are the trial scene, the final two scenes, and the "bar" scenes. An inclination towards
silly "guffaw" comedy is vastly overindulged. Grotesque slapstick fits this play well, but too often
the cast contents themselves with a mugging and telegraphing of the punch lines. In fact, the comic
nightmare that is the product of Brecht's ambiguous perversity is transformed into a merely satiric
Complicating this problem of heavy-handedness is the set, which is too tacky to be really acceptable.
The set for the play offers tremendous possibilities: huge forms rising from and falling to nothing,
masses of eerie light, forms, masks, shrouds, angles. At best, the atmosphere should suggest an awesome
epic circus : monstrous and diseased. Instead, there is something all too comfortable, all to
reminiscent of the country fair here.
Despite these criticisms, there were a great many high points in the production — enough to make
the evening as a whole a very worthwhile one. By constantly counterpointing vaguely familiar and
sometimes deliberately trivial melodies with lyrics of incredible impact and intensity, the music stood
in clear contrast to the general sense of ominous and not very meaningful presence. Especially
effective in this way were "The Song of the Both" and "The Song of the Ganges Rives," two fine, moving
songs sung with intensity and presence by David Stewart and Sarah Harris.
Stewart and Sarah Harris were, moreover, uniformly excellent. Both seemed to capture the subtlety of
Brecht's script and exploit it rather than contenting themselves with merely superficial antics.
Stewart's gestures and intonations were well-motivated, and in contrast to most of the production,
demure and understated. Harris' Widow Begbick was likewise sensitively and sensibly interpreted and was
thus able to emerge clearly as the foil of the insanity ascribed to the other characters. And, although
he occasionally bordered on heavy-handedness, Craig Dunkerly was unctuous, broad, funny, nasty, and
energetic as Uriah Shelley. Hugh Lawrence, George Bentley, Brock Putnam, and Toby Webb all had good
moments in smaller parts.
In all, Brecht's script is much too strong to be ruined by even the weakest production. The Masquers'
treatment was by no means totally exceptional. It was however, much more than adequate. Some very fine
acting, often interesting directional surprises, and the exciting score always appeared to rescue it
from its own inclinations to overstatement. Although this production is a flawed one, it is much too
engaging, much too lively to be ignored.
With fewer than 50 seats unsold, the Amherst Masquers' seventh presentation Monday night of Brecht's
"A Man's A Man," a benefit performance for the campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy, netted the town of
Amherst's Committee for McCarthy over $700.
The Masquers initially sold all seats to the McCarthy Committee at a dollar apiece; the Committee in
turn sold seats to the public at two and five dollars each.
Suggested to the Masquers by the Committee, the idea for another performance received unanimous
approval from the cast. Only Toby Webb '69, who said that he was Republican-oriented, was somewhat
hesitant; he too consented, however, viewing the production as "another opportunity to perform,
valuable regardless of the cause."
Since sale of the tickets to the Committee itself more than covered production costs for the play,
the Masquers also secured a small profit from the performance.