Word of warning: ‘this is not for the sane.’ Even dedicated admirers of Brecht were baffled by this play.
Set in Chicago, there are no key elements or mentions of Chicago. It is so mixed up. The production revolves around a strange wresting match: in one corner stands Shlink, a lumber deal, dressed in a fine suit, his fingers clutching a brief case. In his shadow stand his workers. Opposite is George Garga, a poor immigrant from the prairies, dressed in torn trousers, worn out shoes and a brown shirt which used to be white. It is a contest between rich and poor. Throughout the ten scenes we are alerted to the rounds, but no overall winner is declared. We must use our own judgement.
A key theme is power. We see Shlink and George humiliate each other on all levels, climaxing in a kind of madness at the end. Yet one of the strongest elements in the production is the actors’ characterisation. They brought out the raw emotion behind their class boundaries, which kept the audience’s attention. Sometimes the men would ask directly for advice; at others, they would speak their inner thoughts.
The production space was very intimate, so you could hear and see everything. This focus heightened the experience. The use of lighting and smoke/mist also contributed to the atmospheric setting, drawing us in. The love scene, as such, between Shlink and Garga’s sister had a sort of darkness to it; while costumes too were used schematically, as characters would appear in clothing belonging to another.
Overall the experience was strange, unusual, with Brecht’s alienation effect heavily marked; devotees will enjoy ‘In the Jungle of the Cities.’ While the strong characterisations of the two men, however, will keep up the interest for everybody else.
The Round Up
Would you recommend it? Yes, I would, to an older audience or fans of Brecht, I would not recommend it to younger audiences. I attended with a friend who also found it a bit tough to get her head round.
Last Words? Watch it for the experience; it is a well put performance and something everyone should try. It’s a challenge.