The Exception and the Rule
At the Loeb Experimental Theatre tonight.
Brecht was never more didactic than in a series of one act plays he wrote in 1930. As vitriolic propaganda pieces they are good for young actors to sharpen their teeth on, but in 1964 a Marxist diatribe is pretty obvious and plenty dull.
In presenting The Exception and the Rule, director Steve Most had to make dramatic a play that would rather drone. "Weak men die, strong men fight," bellows the Merchant as he drives his coolie across the desert of an Eastern land to be first at the new oil deposits. Obviously a faithful reader of Herbert Spencer, the Merchant is inhumanly exploiting the coolie, who only wants to make an honest yen.
They run short of water; the coolie offers his flask to his master; and the Merchant, ever fearful of the uppity lower classes, shoots him--only to be acquitted by the Authorities. Ergo, the rule that the underling must want to attack his employer, and the employer cannot be expected to recognize the exception.
By playing the Merchant with flat-out intensity, Tom Bell, who looks more like Brandon de Wilde than J. P. Morgan, only adds to this bombast. His fixed mannerisms and fierce gesturing wear quickly and prevent the audience from taking his mortal fear of the coolie very seriously.
Other actors, however, help to take the edge off the moralizing tone. As the coolie, Armand Pohan is properly oriental, properly obsequious, and even manages to sound natural when forced to mouth Marxist slogans. Rand Rosenblatt, the Judge, utters capitalist sophistries with deep-throated authority. And Terry Malick inadvertenly adds much-needed "ah-so" humor as a kimono-clad, Ernie Kovacs-like innkeeper.
Director Most has chosen to recreate Exception as it was done 30 years ago. Given this limitation, his production is clean, well blocked, and well paced. But Brecht without satire--and with leaden irony--plays woefully flat, as this production by the Adams House Drama Society shows.