Caucasian Chalk Circle

By Bertolt Brecht

Brecht’s short story, The Augsburg Chalk Circle, was a starting point for The Caucasian Chalk Circle. It was agreed that the highly acclaimed actress, Louise Rainer, would play Grusha and so Rainer arranged with a New York backer, Jules Leventhal, to pay Brecht a monthly salary to create the play. However, Rainer and Brecht had an argument, resulting in her withdrawal from the project. Nevertheless, Brecht continued to develop the play and created the 2nd Act of Azdak’s story. Brecht’s friend, Oscar Homolka, agreed to play the role of Azdak. In 1944, Brecht redrafted The Caucasian Chalk Circle after being told by Lion Feuchtwanger that the character of Grusha was ‘too pure and simple’ and therefore impossible to sympathise with. Brecht introduced, among other things, the scenes where Grusha poses as a noblewoman.

Ruth Berlau (also known as ‘Red Ruth’) played a fundamental role in the writing of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Berlau was Brecht’s secretary and co writer, but she also had a long affair with him. At the beginning of Brecht’s time in America, she lived with him and his wife until the constant arguments between the two women caused her to move out. Berlau became pregnant with Brecht’s child, but in September 1944, as they were finishing The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Brecht and Berlau’s son was born prematurely and died two days later. Their child, like the child in the play, was called Michael. The baby was kept a secret. Berlau is credited with writing two love scenes within The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Brecht turned to working on The Life of Galileo and The Caucasian Chalk Circle remained unknown for several more years.

The world premiere of The Caucasian Chalk Circle was at a small theatre at Carleton College, Minnesota in May 1948, seven months after Brecht had left America. It was performed without the prologue (the prologue was not performed in the United States until 1965 due to its ‘espousal’ of revolutionary principles). Brecht staged the play himself with the Berliner Ensemble in 1953, but it was at the Paris International Theatre Festival in 1955 that The Caucasian Chalk Circle started to attract attention and has since been considered one of Brecht’s most acclaimed works.

Video by Chris Tuck Media

February 2013

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