Brechtian Theater and Caryl Churchill

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Women in Brechtian theater play important roles such as that of wives, mothers, and workers. For example, Pelagea Vlassova, in "The Mother" undergoes the transformation from a widow, home bound and uneducated, to a revolutionary, fighting against class oppression. However, Brecht uses Vlassova's experienced are entirely dictated on the basis of her class; her sex appears to have no bearing on any aspect of the play. In contrast, the women in Caryl Churchill's "A Mouthful of Birds" are portrayed primarily as female, with the suggestion of class oppression as an underlying theme. As written by Janelle Reinelt, the Brechtian techniques of epic theater, the gestus, and the alienation effect supply a way to "examine ideologically-determined beliefs and unconscious habitual perceptions."# Churchill utilizes Brechtian techniques and themes to explore gender roles and women as highly characterized by gender oppression as well as their economic conditions. "A Mouthful of Birds" is structurally based upon and characterized by Brecht's definitions of epic theater, as opposed to conventional dramatic theater. This was used by Brecht originally for the purpose of more effectively conveying political and social thought. He has stated that within epic theater, feelings are propelled into perceptions (not preserved), man is the object of the inquiry (not assumed to be known), it dictates what man is forced to do (not what he ought to do), and that social being determines thinking (thinking does not determine being), among others.# Churchill seamlessly absorbs these tenets into her own play to construct a critique of social and economic systems, and speculates particularly upon the unique effects such systems h... ... middle of paper ... ...stion to trigger realization. Doreen says, "It seems my mouth is full of birds which I crunch between my teeth. Their feathers, their blood, their broken bones are choking me. I continue my work as a secretary."# Dionysos continues to dance, ending the play in the same manner as it begun. The use of epic theater, the gestus, and the alienation effect are techniques that enable the audience, as spectators, to look beyond dialogue, action, and emotion in order to obtain a glimpse of what is not so easily conveyed. Churchill has utilized each technique to its fullest extent, and has achieved the Brechtian ideal of producing a work of political theater that incites thought, social criticism, and action. She has, in the same sense, exceeded this ideal by extending the Brechtian discourse to reflect the struggles and importance of the lives of women.

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