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Saint Joan of the Stockyards 

Bertolt Brecht does George Bernard Shaw, badly

Wednesday, Apr 21 2004
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This early Brechtian fable of corporate greed in the Chicago meat market rarely gets produced, most likely because Bertolt Brecht wrote so many other, more potent plays. His young Joan Dark works for the Black Hats, a Salvation Army-like outfit that wants to convert a group of laid-off slaughterhouse workers to Christ. When the Black Hats prove to be as venal and money-susceptible as any other established organization, Joan quits and camps with the agitating workers. Then she dies of pneumonia. Forces conspire to elevate her memory to sainthood, and Brecht's overlong, convoluted, agitprop screed against capitalism ends with a ferocious irony. Jeff Bredt plays a nicely villainous robber baron, Pierpont Mauler, and Leah S. Abrams is a fervent Joan, but director Brian Katz hasn't shaped the sprawling script into anything urgent or new. Too many cast members have been squeezed into a heightened, farcical acting style, whether or not they have the talent for it, and too much of the story relies on Brecht's cynical cardboard plotting. The piece works mainly as a reminder of where Brecht got his early ideas -- Shaw's Saint Joan and Major Barbara live on in Joan Dark -- and why Shaw remains the greater playwright.

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