BY TOM WILLIAMS | THEATER CRITIC | CHICAGOCRITIC.COM
Brown Couch Theatre Company has mounted a delightful production of Happy End, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1929 melodrama with songs. This controversial absurdist work was quickly disowned by Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann for its overt Marxist theme. It follows their Threepenny Opera (1928) and contains the difficult to sing, yet haunting melodies and ever shifting moods that mark a Brecht & Weill work.
Brown Couch Theatre’s ensemble nicely captures the spirit of the work that is a prequel to Guys & Dolls in that it has a gang of Chicago hoods, circa 1919 and Salvation Army missionaries determined to ‘save’ them. Brecht’s take is much darker that Frank Loesser’s on the romance between the Army’s lady and the gangster. Here the chaos erupts in sang and vivid, well player over-the-top performances that leads to a Christmas Eve showdown.
This show is pure epic theatre at its absurdist best. The ensemble captures the essence of the piece nicely. They emote the satire, the wit and the angst of the anti-corporate, anti-establishment themes that clearly led to the actress playing The Fly (here played by the terrific Heather Townsend) to, at the 1929 opening, go into a Communist rant that closed the show two days later. Not a smart idea with the rise of Nazism happening at that time in Germany.
The large assortment of tough to sing numbers with the haunting melodies give this piece a provocative and largely engrossing charm that wins us. The show is funny, satirical with an empathetic group of mobsters as well as pompous religious zealots. Both are mocked nicely.
I liked the singing of Andrea Prestinario as Lillian and Kevin Bishop offers fine work as does Damian Vanore as the tough gang leader. Carmen Aiello was deliciously funny as The Governor.
Happy End is a rare treat and difficult show to effectively mount. It takes a finely tuned ensemble who can play and sing the changing moods and meanings of the work. This troupe delivers the classic piece deftly. I liked their energy and spirited understanding of the play. See this worthy show and sample the work of Brecht & Weill—it’ll leave you with a Happy End.
Date Reviewed: December 15, 2006