Are you a cog in the wheel of some soulless machine? How do you know one way or the other?

James Wirth Photography.

These are some questions you may ponder after watching Sonoma State University’s production of “Man Equals Man.”

Some audience members may that find this piece of experimental theater from post-World War I Germany shines a light on the way humans are turned into machines. Others may not. And some, like me, may conclude they’ve never been so grateful for the director’s notes when trying to discern the meaning of a play within a play.

Bertolt Brecht’s “Man Equals Man,” is set in a German cabaret in 1925, with a handful of audience members seated in tables on or near the stage. The cabaret members tell a story set in colonial Burma of an Irish porter who is lured by three desperate British soldiers into the army (the original play was set in India). The porter’s breakdown of identity and his eventual transformation into a cold-blooded warrior is meant to show how a human can be “reassembled like a car.”

The cast members, most in face paint or cabaret-style fashions, understand this is not a time for nuance and that Brecht considered art “a hammer” with which to shape reality. They play their roles with resolve, both the slapstick and the tragic.

The cabaret band adds a welcome touch to the play with its lilting background pieces and its steadfast backing for the cast members’ songs.

A tip of the hat to cast members Silas Vaughn, Allan Chornak, James Bruzzone, Euan Ashley, Christopher Shayota, Jacob Maybo, Katee Drysdale, Natalie Meyers, Allie Evans, Anthony Macy, Christopher Goodman and Victoria Saitz, and to director Judy Navas.

The play continues through Sunday in a small theater at the university’s Ives Hall. For ticket information, click here.

Still to come for the 2017-18 season are the productions “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Jan. 31 to Feb. 11, and William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” March 14-31.

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