As much as I love the New York Fringe Festival, I was only able to see one production in this year’s fest. I was spending the rest of August engaging with theatre in a very different–albeit sweeter–way, as I reprised the role of Jenna in Vital Theatre’s production of Peace, Love, and Cupcakes The Musical. The one FringeNYC show I was able to see was directed by my PLC director, Jennifer Curfman, and it made my short foray into this year’s Fringe Festival totally worth it.
The Pawnbroker: Lies, Lovers, and Bertolt Brecht’s tagline is “the controversial story of Brecht’s legend–and what five women lost to create it.” Actress and playwright Katelin Wilcox portrays all five women, who not only had romantic affiliations with Brecht, but also shaped the plays he wrote–and were forever shaped by him in return.
I’m not going to lie: one-person shows fill me with a sense of trepidation, unless your first name is John and your last name is Leguizamo. I would rather see the drama of a theatrical performance take place because of a conflict created by more than one character on stage. (This is almost a conundrum regarding fringe festivals, as a good portion of their programming includes solo acts.)
Despite my fears, The Pawnbroker exceeds all expectations. Katelin Wilcox transitions seamlessly from woman to woman throughout the piece, using distinctive red accents for each character she inhabits: a flower pin, a knit hat, a pencil, a handkerchief, and silk scarf. Wilcox’s performance is nuanced and fully-lived. With every woman she portrays, she is not just becoming another character: she is taking on their circumstances, experiencing their triumphs and tragedies, and giving voices to their untold stories. While I’ve read and enjoyed many of Brecht’s plays–especially for their complex and intriguing female characters–I had no idea how many women collaborated on his works. While I was grinning at the sly comedy in The Threepenny Opera, I didn’t know that Elisabeth Hauptmann, a German writer, was Brecht’s key collaborator on the book and lyrics. When I empathizing with the plight of Shen Te in The Good Person of Szechwan, I wasn’t aware her story wouldn’t have been the same without the collaboration of Margarete Steffin, a German writer, and Ruth Berlau, a Danish writer, director, and actress. What makes their absence in Brecht’s legacy even more striking in The Pawnbroker is a series of Brecht-style projections that feature quotes from theatre greats (such as Peter Brook and Tony Kushner) praising Brecht for his achievements in the theatre. While Brecht’s achievements should continue to be known, understood and celebrated, The Pawnbroker makes the excellent case that the women who created with him should spend as much time in the spotlight.
Even though FringeNYC has closed its doors for another year, The Pawnbroker returns as part of FringeNYC’s Encore Series. Learn more about its extended run here.