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Reviews of

Los Angeles Times (CRITICS' CHOICES)

For all of you questioning capitalists out there -- and who isn't one these days? -- your doubts about the free markets will find immediate, invigorating release in Bertolt Brecht's 1930 play "Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses." As finely staged by the Pacific Resident Theatre, Brecht's Depression-set satire lets no one off the meat hook, impaling everyone along the economic food chain from the filthy rich to the dirt poor.

Joan Dark (Dalia Vosylius) is a naive and impassioned member of a religious social order who decides to take on Chicago's biggest meat-packing tycoon, Pierpont Mauler (Andrew Parks). The heroine's do-gooder attitude is impossibly saintly but she starts to do more harm than good when the money men find a way to manipulate her trusting nature for their own gain. Eventually, everyone is seduced by dollar signs as poor Joan is forced to walk the stations of the cross leading to martrydom.

The production uses a new liberal translation by Peter Mellencamp that may bother Brechtian purists with its free-wheeling interpolation of American vernacular. But the tone still achieves an appropriately alienating and distanced effect in keeping with Brecht's belief in non-emotional theater. The highly effective ensemble cast channels its archetypal characters with a controlled relish that manages to feel simultaneously disciplined and anarchic.

At times, the production under the direction of Michael Rothhaar comes off as a bit too self-congratulatory as it underscores the parallels between the play and our country's current financial mess, but it's a minor complaint for an otherwise outstanding production.

"The capitalist system is the only one we've got, which means it's the best one we've got," mews one particularly unctuous fat cat. Cynical to the max, the play should be required viewing for financial reformists and CNBC blowhards alike.
- David Ng


For a lucid analysis of the malfunctioning global financial markets, one could do worse than Bertolt Brecht. And it's hard to imagine doing Brecht any better than director Michael Rothhaar in this electrifying staging of the Marxist maestro's classic, anti-morality play, St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses. Set in the Chicago meatpacking markets of the 1930s (wittily caricatured in Danielle Ozymandias' costumes), the story cleverly inverts the Jeanne d'Arc legend in the character of Joan Dark (a dynamic Dalia Vosylius), an anti-poverty crusader whose "Warriors of God" mission caters to packers left destitute by slaughterhouse closings. Joan's efforts to get the men back to work lead her to the financier Pierpont Mauler (the fine Andrew Parks), unaware that it is his stock manipulations that are responsible for the closings and that Mauler is cynically using her appeals to further his scheme. When Joan subsequently refuses a Mauler bribe for the financially strapped mission, she is cast into the street where she belatedly realizes the pointlessness of good intentions without collective action. Powered by Peter Mellencamp's vivid new translation and an unerring ensemble (including standouts Robin Becker, Ed Levey, Tony Pasqualini and Daniel Riordan), Rothhaar's production is a perfectly pitched tribute to the principles of epic theater. (It's also a showcase for the multi-talented Norman Scott, who lights his own set design and shines as Mauler's scurvy hatchet man.) Rothhaar & co. not only prove that the old, dialectical dogmatist still has teeth, but that Brecht's bark and his bite are both wickedly entertaining.
-- Bill Raden