Catalyst's Roundheads and Peakheads

Money calls to money.
Money calls to money.

Understand? Good, because that’s pretty much the entire point of Roundheads and Peakheads, Catalyst Theatre’s latest offering of the Brecht oeuvre. Written in 1936, the play, according to Catalyst’s own literature, is originally based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. That particular wording is a bit funny, but with reason. What it really means, near as I can tell is this: Someone said “Hey Bert, you should write a play based on Measure for Measure.” Brecht replied, “Okay, I will.” And then he proceeded to do nothing of the sort. Well, okay, there are some parallels. Roundheads and Peakheads has whores, and a girl named Isabella who wants to enter a convent, and she has an unfortunate brother who is sentenced to die. And there’s a bed trick, and the leader of the land, when doling out his own brand of justice says, “measure for measure.” But thematically the plays have little in common, and Brecht’s play does not in any way appear to be a response to Shakespeare’s play.

Brecht’s play is about class and the dangers of race warfare (that will surprise no one). In the fictional land of Yahoo, the poor tenant farmers are planning an uprising against their wealthy landlords. In order to prevent such unrest, the government claims that all the problems of the people with round heads and to be blamed on the people with peaked heads. As the roundheads fight with the peakheads, they momentarily are distracted from their real problems, being unable to feed their families. In the end, those who triumph, triumph not because of the shape of their heads, but because of how much money they have.

The production is smartly staged, and performed with zeal and care by the ensemble. Director Chris Gallu (who also directed Catalyst’s absola-freakin-loutely brilliant production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui) does an excellent job of mixing elements – rap, song, theatre, and video scenes projected on a large wall of the set. But in the end, the production cannot rise above the didacticness of Brecht’s own script. Sure, he wasn’t known for being subtle, but Roundheads and Peakheads reaches an all-time “obvious” high. So while Catalyst’s production has things to recommend it, and certainly Catalyst is DC’s best interpreter of Bertie’s works, I wouldn’t suggest it for the first-time Brecht goer.

3 stars
through March 15th


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