Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Miss earth 2006 in Bikini Fashion Vol 10

Part of what is inspiring about Brecht’s going to East Germany, Mr. Eustis said, was his courage in joining the new regime. At the time he was writing his treatise on how the theatrical ideal is never to fully engage the audience but to leave it critically detached, as he always was. So even while he was torn between engaging in, and detaching from, the struggles he saw and felt, he did manage, with some success, to be and not to be.

“He took on all these contradictions you have to deal with in order to be politically effective and artistically effective,” Mr. Eustis said. “It was about being willing to enter into the messiness of history.”

However misleading, the plate is ultimately not the bitter pill one may think. When sifting through history’s mess, it can be hard to distinguish between stuff made sincerely and that made cynically. But for those of us who can appreciate kitsch, there is always hope.

Miss earth 2006 in Bikini Fashion Vol 09

“This face of a happy self-satisfied citizen,” Mr. Eustis said, “it’s a public mask.” Then he quoted from memory a poem Brecht wrote close to his death in 1956: “Sad in my youth/ Sad later on/ When can I be happy?/ Better be soon.”

Yikes. You might guess that Mr. Eustis’s mordant appreciation of the Meissen plate contains a sting of criticism for his mother’s undying love for one of the 20th century’s greatest ideological failures. But this story is not about Hamlet, but Brecht. Or, you might say, Brecht with Hamlet overtones.

Miss earth 2006 in Bikini Fashion Vol 08

At first, Mr. Eustis was charmed by the notion that the East German regime would put an intellectual hero like Brecht on a commemorative plate. (Would the Franklin Mint put Tony Kushner’s face on one?) But as his knowledge of Brecht grew and the East German government fell, Mr. Eustis learned that there is more to kitsch than decoration.

The plate bears the crossed-swords hallmark of Meissen, which made its first porcelain 300 years ago and which continued to operate under Communist rule. But, he said, “there’s something very deceptive about it.”

He pointed out the quirky smile on the playwright’s cleanshaven face, which more readily suggests a cheerful radio-jingle writer than the man who wrote “Mother Courage and Her Children” (newly translated by Mr. Kushner for the Public last year). In the early 1950s, Brecht had been lured to East Berlin with the promise of his own theater, but he was far from the model Communist the East German government hoped he would be. He rarely smiled or shaved.

Miss earth 2006 in Bikini Fashion Vol 07

It was not until the 1920s, when Modernism and Socialism were taking aim at more-is-more consumers and their overstocked homes, that kitsch came to mean any work of art — a sad song or a china shepherdess — that played falsely on the heartstrings. It was in this avant-garde crucible, heated by a yearning for a real and unsentimental truth, that both the chrome design of the Bauhaus and the dispassionate theater of Bertolt Brecht were born.

The story of how Brecht’s face ended up on a Meissen porcelain plate in 1975 is a piece of lesson theater unto itself. So is how the plate ended up displayed on a Brooklyn bookshelf as the prize possession of Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater.

The plate was given to Mr. Eustis by his mother in the late 1970s when he was about 20 and visiting her in East Berlin. A longtime Communist, she had left Minnesota, where she had raised Mr. Eustis, and gone with her second husband to teach at Humboldt University in East Berlin.