Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 1933 “Ballet chante” — sung ballet — encapsulates many of Brecht’s themes in a short, spare piece. The full title’s “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoise.” In nine brief scenes, young Anna leaves Louisiana to find work. She’ll send money back to her family. They want to build a new house on the river. A “sin” awaits her at each stop. And Brecht lambastes Capitalism.
In Memphis, Anna dances topless in a cabaret. She can’t commit the sin of Pride, because she “isn’t rich enough to be proud.”
At Los Angeles, she works at a movie studio (how she lands these jobs amid the Great Depression isn’t addressed). When an extra’s mistreated, she can’t express her Anger, because she’ll lose her job.
She might become a star. While her family back home gobbles meals, she must starve herself. Gluttony will hold her back, since her contract has a weight clause. So Anna eats and purges into a waste basket.
For each scene, Weill has composed often beautiful, eerie, and ironic music: he gives Pride a waltz; Anger a fox trot; Gluttony a barbershop quartet, a capella; and Envy, a stately, heroic march.
In a sense, the piece is a kind of Seven Commandments of bourgeoisie living: if you want to fit in, these are the Thou Shalt Not’s.
Along with Weill’s wonderful score, Brecht splits Anna in two: Anna I and Anna II. They are sides of the same person. Brecht said the choice let him “convey the ambivalence inherent in the ‘sinner.’”
Though she shows occasional sympathy, Anna I acts like an imperious superego. Her angry songs criticize the travails of Anna II, who, as she tries to find happiness and self-expression, dances and suffers one humiliation after another.
Bodhi Tree Concerts initial staging had some persistent sound problems (though I hear some have been cleared up). But it’s still worth seeing, for Weill’s eclectic/ironic score — accompanied with dexterity by Mark Danisovsky on a baby grand — for Brecht’s bullet-train swipe at the evils of Capitalism, and for Shirley Johnson’s inventive direction and choreography.
7 Deadly Sins also makes a salient case for a fringe festival in San Diego: where else would we see Brecht/Weill’s terse, bitter masterpiece?
GETTING WORD OF MOUTH OUT
Counting the Buskers, who perform all over town, this year’s Fringe has over 80 entrants. Each day has nine time-slots and usually five shows on at once.
I only have two feet. And word of mouth needs to spread quickly, since the festival closes July 13.
To expand coverage in the Reader, I’ve asked some trusted theater people to make recommendations (Welton Jones, Kathi Diamant, Pat Launer, D.J. Sullivan, Jim Hebert). These aren’t reviews, or star-ratings, just a firm “yes” for a show.
This doesn’t mean these are the only must-see’s in the festival. Far from it: just an on-the-run poll. The following received several mentions:
- The 146 Point Flame, at the Spreckels Off-Broadway.
- Beau and Aero, at Tenth Ave. Arts Center.
- Red, White, and Blacklisted, Spreckels RAW Space.
- Will Work For, Tenth Ave. Arts Center, Cabaret Space.
- Pretending Things are a C**K, Tenth Ave. Arts Center.
- Ceremony, Tenth Ave. Arts Center.
- The Mending Monologues, Spreckels RAW Space.
- Solo y Juntos – Al Camino del Alma, Lyceum Theatre.
Many more, most likely, to follow.