Brecht, St. Patrick, and genocide

This week was Genocide Awareness Week in Portland, and Friday evening Patty and I attended a cultural program at the Unitarian Church which included Zimbabwean dancers, Native American poet Ed Edmo, and a young African man who was one of the “lost boys of Sudan.” All very informative and entertaining.

Also on tap that evening was a performance of something purporting to be Brecht’s Mother Courage. It was so hacked up and awful that we had to leave about 20 minutes into the play. While I wouldn’t normally disparage someone with the courage to attempt something like this, especially for a free presentation, I can’t help but comment, for no other reason that the slim chance that I might save someone an awful embarrassment in the future.

Attempting to stage a Brecht play without understanding Brechtian methodology is the very first mistake. Professional actors and directors should also avoid this, and most do. But even if this play were a standard Jo Schmo creation, this performance would have been awful. Instead of fine Brecht-Weill songs, sung by the actors, we were subjected to awful recorded versions of 60s anti-war songs, played at entirely inappropriate times, while the actors merely stood on stage, evidently immobilize by the ponderous music.

The only thing I can praise is the makeup and costumes.

Now, the real reason I sat down to write this article is that at one point in the evenings program, someone, I think the MC, said something to the effect that we could now go out and celebrate St. Patricks Day with a heightened awareness of genocide.

Now most people don’t know a lot about this guy Patrick who was sainted by the Catholics, so let me fill you in. America’s favorite excuse for drinking beer and celebrating Irishness was made a saint for doing God’s work of driving the original indigenous culture (which we might metaphorically call “snakes”) out of Ireland. In the same way we whitewash the genocidal history of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Christopher Columbus, St. Paddy has been transformed into a cuddly little leprechaun with a pint in his hand. Will the ironies never cease?