Naked young immensely marvellous
Like Baal loved it when he lived with us
Murdoch University in collaboration with Edith Cowan University’s Contemporary Performance course presents Bertolt Brecht’s Baal - a visually stunning and unorthodox interpretation of the text that brings Brecht’s epic theatre into the 21st Century. Baal was Brecht’s first full-length play; written at the age of twenty, before his Marxist views, it exudes raw anarchistic energy. The morally ambiguous nature of the central character (Baal – a poet and a song writer) is played out along side the questionable motives of the people that surround him, highlighting our fascination and vicarious need for people who live outside the social and moral confides of our society.
Brecht’s argument seems to be that in a society, which is dominated by class, it is impossible to maintain an absolute individual moral code: ethics depends on what face you are dealing with, or presenting to the world.
Baal follows the central character’s fall from the dizzy heights of fame, to the seemingly futile and tragic scene of his death – reminding us of such people as Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Billy Holliday, Kurt Cobain and more recently Amy Winehouse.
On the 31st of May 1918, Brecht writes in a letter to his friend Caspar Neher:
"I’m well and take all pains, to be happy. It is not so easy. Anyway, I’m on some kind of a high though: I’m writing a comedy: “Baal eats! Baal dances!! Baal is transfigured!!!” There is a hamster in it, an outrageous hedonist, who leaves grease spots on the sky, a May-mad chap with immortal intestines!
It is Brecht’s first full-length play and he is desperate to get it published, which finally happens in 1922 after two more versions and a change of title to simply, Baal. The play becomes a kind of literary workshop for the 20 year old and he begins to develop his unique style. He is not a Marxist at this stage and has little interest in politics. With this play the young Brecht makes his first extensive attempt to renounce the traditional moral code of his day. But the play’s amoral tone did not provide the solution or the model for how to live a happy life, if one is to live with others, and Brecht was never attracted to the idea of a hermetic existence. Later, when he becomes the teacher, the writer with a didactic socialist mission, Baal starts to become a source of embarrassment for him. The conflict between an individual’s urges for pleasure, in particular those of a sexual nature, and the shared responsibility for the collective happiness is the source of this embarrassment. He suggests that our urges for pleasure should be made productive, not in an individual sense, but collectively.
Two years before his death, Brecht still struggles to integrate Baal into his oeuvre: I admit (and advise you) this play is lacking wisdom. Why are we still not good and wise, more than 2000 years after we were taught that we should love one another as we do ourselves? Who knows the answer? Marx? Freud? Baal? Anyway, theatre is better at asking questions than giving answers and Brecht knew that man is changeable. 2000 years is nothing compared to eternity!