Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama

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9780802115294: Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama

The result of twenty-five years of research on three continents, Brecht and Company is a revolutionary portrait of one of the world's greatest theater artists - and the people upon whom he built his reputation. Bertolt Brecht is regarded by many as the most influential figure in twentieth-century theater; the director Peter Brook has argued that "all theater work today at some point starts with or returns to his achievement." In this first full biography of the Brecht circle, John Fuegi confirms Brecht's rank as a world-class theater director, but also shows why much of the writing can no longer be attributed to Brecht alone. Brecht's first violent, homoerotic plays, though noisily provocative failures at the box office, brought him praise from adventurous critics. In Berlin in the 1920s, Brecht found someone who would change not only his life but world theater: Elisabeth Hauptmann, who wrote over 80 percent of The Threepenny Opera in exchange for time in Brecht's life and in his bed. Yet her name often disappeared from the printed text, as well as from other plays and poems. Disappointed and disaffected, Hauptmann was supplanted by the passionate, tubercular Margarete Steffin, who contributed crucially to such classics as Mother Courage and The Good Woman of Setzuan. With Steffin's death in 1941, Brecht's career as a playwright virtually ended, though other works, begun with her, were finished with the aid of the uninhibited and politically committed Danish director and author Ruth Berlau. Fuegi traces the evolution of Brecht's parasitic relationships and aggressive ambition through close analysis of diaries, letters, and drafts of the literary works, revealing a man who was personallydazzling, a genius at assembling and directing the plays created in his workshop, but ultimately lacking in literary stamina, for which he depended on his lovers. His need for control and fame led him to dominate - and betraynearly everyone who supported and loved him. The story

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From Kirkus Reviews :

Emulating the breadth characteristic of the epic theater, Fuegi (Germanic & Slavic Lit./Univ. of Maryland) determines that Brecht's theater wasn't really Brecht's theater after all and that Brecht himself, that rather heroic figure of 20th-century drama, was, in fact, a pig of a human being. A misogynist, a liar, and a thief, Bertolt Brecht used and misused people on all sides. Possessed of mesmeric powers that the author compares to those of Hitler, Brecht had no difficulty seducing any number of men and women who would meet his literary as well as his sexual needs. In time, he produced five children by as many women and saw at least a half dozen more offspring aborted. A good deal of his energy seems to have been spent juggling multiple relationships, which Fuegi recounts in great detail to somewhat numbing effect. The most fascinating segments of this hefty volume are those that tell the stories behind Brecht's most famous works. The Threepenny Opera emerges as primarily the work of Elizabeth Hauptmann (Brecht's long-term sometime lover) and Kurt Weill, with final touches by Brecht, all fused together during a volatile journey toward opening night. Similarly, Mother Courage was the product of the conflicting voices of Brecht and Margrete Steffin (another lover), a combination that Fuegi openly admires as resulting in a resonance and insight that neither writer could have accomplished alone. In any case, such revelations inspire the reader to return to the plays themselves for reexamination. Finally, these theatrical tales are set against the political backdrop of the times: the rise of Hitler (whom we meet as an unemployed scenic designer) and encounters with the watchful eyes of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, and the HUAC. A painstakingly researched, if sometimes ploddingly written, work that effectively weaves together the disparate threads that went into the theater we equate with the name Brecht. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly :

Bertolt Brecht, according to this gripping, myth-shattering biography, regularly cheated his closest co-workers and lovers, publishing their literary works under his own name and concealing his wealth in secret bank accounts while posing as a penurious Communist proletarian. Many of Brecht's poems, stories and songs, plus huge sections of some of his most famous plays, were written by his lover Elisabeth Hauptmann, declares Fuegi, who bases his sensational charges on surviving manuscripts, interviews with members of Brecht's circle, contemporaneous diaries and contracts. The Threepenny Opera , he concludes, was almost exclusively the work of Hauptmann, who silently endured Brecht's exploitation, hoping he would divorce his wife and marry her. Professor of Germanic and Slavic literature at the University of Maryland and author of two previous studies on Brecht, Fuegi further argues that substantial unacknowledged contributions to other famous Brecht plays were made by two of his mistresses. Terrified of abandonment and of emotional involvement, Brecht, in Fuegi's scathing portrait, continually played his multiple lovers against one another. The author deduces that Brecht was bisexual and, from his late teens to mid-20s, preoccupied with homosexuality. A founder of the International Brecht Society, Fuegi presents Brecht as a shrewd manipulator, with close friends on both the left and the radical right, who made puny contributions to the anti-Hitler effort until the Nazis took away his German citizenship, and who remained silent while Stalin persecuted his friends in the Soviet Union. Fuegi's brilliant, graphic portrait of Brecht and his circle is certain to spark controversy. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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