Bertolt Brecht’s short one-act play "The Informer" is set in the late 1930s in Hitler’s Germany. It tells the story of a middle-class couple worrying that their young son, who has left the house, will betray them to the Hitler Youth for criticizing Nazism. In another Brecht short, "The Jewish Wife," a doctor’s wife is packing while talking to friends and relatives on the phone about taking a train out of Berlin to Amsterdam during the same era. Actor-director Phil Luna — who is directing both one-acts at the Mercury Cafe under the title Amerika: 2 by Brecht — says the woman is aware that if she doesn’t leave, another kind of train awaits her. “She says, ‘Why me?’ She doesn’t care about politics, she’s never questioned, and now it’s too late. She has to get out."
Luna believes both plays are about complacency as the shadow of Nazism falls over these ordinary people’s lives. Studied in Marxism, Brecht, who left Germany in 1933, saw the world primarily through the lens of class strife. For him, most social ills were born from “the capitalists, industrialists, bankers, people who make the money,” says Luna.
Brecht wanted his work to have social impact. “He thought the entertainment industry was as bad as the narcotics industry, that movies put people to sleep,” Luna says. “He wanted audiences to go away from the theater thinking about the ideas of the play. He said that art is not a mirror to reflect life but a hammer to re-shape it. We can change it.”
Amerika: 2 by Brecht has contemporary resonance. Referring to the paranoia of the couple in "The Informer," Luna points out that “Today we have Alexa and cell phones, and the government could turn those things off and on at will.
“And as a Latino, I think we can make a comparison to what’s happening on the border," Luna adds. "People trying to escape their countries come here for security, and we’re taking away their children, putting them in camps — while the rest of us are talking on the phone or saying, ‘I’m going to go to rehearsal tonight.’ That problem of spying — who knows how far it can go? I want people to think about these things, their own lives, the effect of our technology. Some people don’t care what’s happening on the border, the surveillance state.”
Luna was awarded a fellowship last year by the William and Eva Fox Foundation and Theatre Communications Group to teach an acting class for Denver’s Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center, and members of that class are performing in this production. Luna, who both acts and directs, has found the process challenging.
“It’s an ensemble piece, and everyone has an input in what we’re doing," he explains. "Brecht wanted the audience to always know they were watching a play. One of the techniques was that he would drop a scrim that said in this scene, so-and-so dies. He used masks, signs, songs. Hopefully we’re true to what he was trying to do. It’s a journey of discovery.”
Luna describes the Mercury Cafe as the perfect venue and expresses strong gratitude for owner Marilyn Megenity: “Whenever I walk in, there’s that feeling of artistic freedom. It’s really a great place to be.”
Amerika: 2 by Brecht runs at 7:30 p.m. November 8, 9, 15 and 16, at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 303-294-9258 or go to the Mercury Cafe website.
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