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clap clap stomp clap stomp stomp clap clap: A very late reaction to Uncivil Wars


I attended David Gordon’s Uncivil Wars last night. It was interesting to finally see the play which was supposed to serve as an inspiration/jumping off point for our group performance in the gallery after the fact. It probably would have been detrimental to our creative process had we seen the play prior brainstorming for our own piece, possibly making us feel obliged to create something too similar.
There were a couple of elements that really stood out in Uncivil Wars breaking the codes of convention followed by most plays I’ve seen. The most obvious was the complete lack of “fourth wall”. The characters address the audience directly, look right at us and introduce themselves, and deliver dialogue out to the audience rather than to eachother. There is no pretense that the scenes are taking place naturaly in the real world, but instead acknowledges the fact that it is a play. The actors play actors playing characters. The narrator,(Brecht), makes references to the play itself and even has the actors repeat the first scene as if she/he is a director conducting a rehearsal.
The play also had an overall very minimalist quality to it. The set consisted of a couple stepladders, chairs,table, and a coat rack; however these props were used very dynamically and became part of the choreography and movement of the characters. Every characters costume consisted of a black jumpsuit, the shoes they probably wear in real life, and a hat, wig, or some other accesory. Because the actors each played multiple roles, hats, wigs, point/flat headpieces, served to distinguish one character from another played by the same actor. Actors also changed the tone of their voice and mannerisms to distinguish characters.
Besides these minimalistic props there were a couple video moniters on the set. The mostly would show the title of the scene or song, usually in german, and displayed the court-notes during the trial scene. I thought the play could have done without these TV screens. I found them to be distracting, especially since the court-notes being shown were often out of sync with the actual dialogue. They also seemed out of place in a play that supposedly took place before the invention of such technology.
Overall the dialogue was very cleverly written, mostly taking the form of rhyming verse, sometimes blurring the line or transitioning between spoken and sung. The stomping/clapping/marching dance pieces were also very tightly choreographed but a little bit lulling after awhile.