Some of Brecht’s short plays are perfect little gems of world drama. Two are currently running in Bengali versions: The Measures Taken as Samādhān by Open Theatre (Academy of Fine Arts, February 14) and The Exception and the Rule as Bidhi o Byatikram by Class Theatre (Four Square Critics Choice, February 17). Coincidentally, Brecht placed both among his lehrstucke (or “didactic cantatas”), set both in Asian locales, and wrote both in eight scenes each, in 1930.
Samādhān is a new partner for Heiner Mueller’s Mauser (Bārud), replacing Mueller’s Mission (Biswāsghātakatā) on a double bill. It is certainly the ideal curtain raiser to Mauser, which Mueller built upon Brecht’s play. Both explicitly question totalitarian doctrines and got their respective authors into trouble with leftist commentators. Indeed, The Measures Taken—where a comrade is punished by death for his incorrigible compassion which compromises the Party—was indicted by Communists as “a typically petit-bourgeois, intellectualist” drama.
Anjan Dutt directs with a mise-en-scene similar to Bārud so that the connections become obvious. Thus, he employs four male Agitators to match his cast in Bārud, whereas Brecht specified that one was a woman. Of course, Dutt cannot equal the 400-strong Control Chorus of workers in the original Berlin show, so he himself takes this part of the conscience of the Communist Party. It works because he pays attention to the importance of Hanns Eisler’s music. His voice is strong, despite his Dylanesque melodies and strumming. Other appropriate theatrical measures include yellow makeup instead of masks and the writing of Brecht’s scene titles on a blackboard. The translation suffices, though there is a big difference between Brecht’s “lime pit” and Dutt’s “garbage dump”.
Brecht gives the idea of human kindness a more conventional Marxist touch in The Exception and the Rule. A coolie gives water to his tyrannical master, who shoots him, wrongly thinking the coolie wanted to kill. As in The Measures Taken, the court dismisses the murder charge but not from any allegiance to the party line; rather, because to expect a man to help another is irrational. Brecht’s cynicism determines that cold reason and violence rule our world, that pity is an exception. But Brecht is never as simple as all that; in fact, the coolie’s last speech makes his motive clear: he is afraid he will be tried if his master is found half dead. Class Theatre’s reputation rests mainly on Bidhi o Byatikram, which has been around since 1978. An adaptation rather than a translation, it neglects the impact of the songs in the script, and inserts the characters of two clowns without any justification whatsoever. Still, Ramen Sarkar directs well and there are some sterling performances from Pankaj Pramanik (the emaciated old coolie), Sandip Das (the calculating merchant-master) and Nirmallya Mitra (a Hindi-speaking constable).
(From The Telegraph, 19 March 1993)