Note from A Man’s A Man Artistic Director Brian Kulick
“A MAN’S A MAN,” OR WHAT TAKES 1/2 A BOTTLE OF BRANDY, 4 BOTTLES OF SELTZER AND 8-10 CIGARS?
It was supposed to be a quick little play, dashed off in the summer but it would be some six years before Brecht’s GALGEI would nally see the stage retitled as A MAN’S A MAN. A lot would happen in those six years and Brecht would undergo a dramaturgical chrysalis of sorts. It is during this time that Brecht would discover his unique point of view, key collaborators and his particular brand of theatre. The result is a play that seems almost giddy from all these new discoveries, intoxicated with itself and its fresh new voice. Reading A MAN’S A MAN is like listening to Proko ev’s early piano concertos: Brecht, like Proko ev seems besotted with the revelation of his newfound style and shameless in showing its sudden, in nite virtuosity. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin at the beginning, July 1920, when Brecht scribbles the following poem in his journal:
Galgei was a solid citizen
His head was rather thick.
Some villains told him that he was The butter merchant Pick.
They were such wicked people To play this dirty trick. Reluctantly he in the end Became the wicked Pick.
Citizen Joseph Galgei
Born April ‘83
Devout and neat and honest As God likes men to be.
The early drafts of the play were still indebted to German Expressionism, but, even at this early age, Brecht was impatient with this form that he had inherited from the previous generations of writers. Brecht noted in his journal, “Expressionism represented a (little German) revolution, but as soon as a certain degree of freedom was permitted, it turned out that there were no free people around; as soon as one imagined one could say what one wanted, it turned out to be what the new tyrants wanted; and they had nothing to say.” But it was
not just a matter of “what” to say, but equally “how” to say it. Brecht seemed to nd the “how” before the “what.” The “what” would famously become a Marxist point of view but the “how” was found in the bars, boxing rings, circuses and cabarets of Berlin where a new movement was happening all around him, a movement that G.F. Hartlaub dubbed “Neue Sachlichkeit,” which roughly translates as “The New Matter-of-Factness.” This impulse led to a light, casual, off-the-cuff approach tolifeandart. Itwasthisimpulsethatsuddenly animated the young Brecht and his new circle of friends and collaborators which included Caspar Neher (the designer) and Elizabeth Hauptman, who became his writing partner on A MAN’S A MAN, THREEPENNY OPERA and THE HAPPY END. Hauptman and Brecht shared a love for English writing and her pro ciency in the language helped Brecht transform his GALGEI play, which was originally set in Munich, to the more exotic world of Rudyard Kipling’s India where Galgei became the porter Galy Gay.
Brecht had grown impatient with setting his plays in Germany and had already experimented with setting his IN THE JUNGLE OF THE CITIES in the fantastical city of Chicago. This would become a common dramatic trait of his: he would always be talking about his love/hate relationship with contemporary Germany; it would just be in the guise of exotic locales or long-ago timeframes. The idea here was to further activate the audience’s imagination, let them discover the analogy. Brecht was always in search of collaborators and the greatest and most coveted collaborator of all was his audience. And so the original heavy-handed expressionist play became a comedy, Munich was transmogri ed into India, and the “three villains” who convert Galgei were reincarnated into three soldiers who “induct” a reluctant Galy Gay into Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Brecht reports that this transformation of his play required “2 whole days, 1/2 bottle of brandy, 4 bottles of seltzer and eight to ten cigars.”
The result is a play that is awake to the currents o
f a new age, an age of rampant militarism and machines and what this means for a populace not quite ready for the next chapter of modernity. Although it was his fourth play, it is perhaps his rst truly “Brechtian” work, introducing us to a gallery of colorful characters that we can now see as the prototypes who return to populate his later plays: the innocent Galy Gay will become Shen Tei in THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN, Widow Begbick will have a future life in THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CITY OF MAHAGONNY after which she will shape-shift into MOTHER COURAGE, and the wily Monk Wang will be the rst of a myriad of scoundrels and connivers that will culminate in the infamous Azdak from THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE.
At the center of Brecht’s play is his one great theme: man’s changeability. It is rst discovered and elucidated here in A MAN’S A MAN and will become the basic DNA for all of Brecht’s future plays. It will henceforth come in two modes: the comic and the tragic. When someone changes in a Brecht play, like Galy Gay, then it is a comedy; when they cannot change, like Mother Courage, then the play becomes a tragedy. Just about everything and everyone changes in A MAN’S A MAN, with the central focus being on Galy Gay himself. Brecht’s Galy Gay is a complete innocent unaware of the forces at work to remold him for the 20th Century. In this respect, he is something of a distant literary cousin to Robert Musil’s Ulrich, aka THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES. Gay and Ulrich are human tabulae rasae, patiently waiting for an impatient century to re-script them to its own darker needs.
The question for Brecht was never “will Galy Gay change or not?” but rather, “what is the ultimate factor that could bring about such a change?” Change, for Brecht, was inevitable. The real question was always to nd the root cause or causes for any social or psychological
transformation. The soldiers attempt a series of increasingly brutal tactics and sadistic mind games on poor Galy Gay, none of which really work. It seems, according to Brecht, that the human spirit is tougher than one might suspect. It is the tragic trajectory of the character Bloody Five who, inadvertently, changes Galy Gay. It is through Bloody Five’s outrageous act that Galy Gay learns about the dark underside of relativity, that like acid, it can erode such seemingly xed notions as name, identity or ideology. In this world, when a Brecht character is faced with the choice between holding onto a name or holding onto life, the only answer is life. Life trumps everything, even if that life is at the expense of one’s fundamental beliefs. These things, Galy Gay concludes, are, as a more articulate dramatic character once said, “sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Such intimations are dif cult to reconcile. They take one to the very edge where relativism meets nihilism, a tremendously dif cult existential zip code to live in. Shakespeare will abandon this tragic viewpoint for the more optimistic resolutions of his romances; Brecht will ultimately move away from such a stance and embrace his own idiosyncratic/ pragmatic form of Marxism. From this newfound viewpoint, A MAN’S A MAN became somewhat dif cult to defend. Brecht would say to his Marxist critics (who were searching for uplifting stories to inspire change), “If you can change a man for the worse, it means that, conversely, he can be changed for the best.” When his critics continued to press him and ask why he never chose to write such positive types of plays, he responded, “Sometimes theatre has to present NO so loudly that it provokes the audiences to stand up and shout back, YES!” It is our humble hope that this production might provoke you to a similar place of “yes” toward life, change, and the world that so desperately needs our attention.
– Brian Kulick, Artistic Director