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Review: 'Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses' at Pacific Resident Theatre

June 29, 2009 |  1:07 pm


For all of you questioning capitalists out there -- and who isn’t one these days? -- your doubts about the free markets will find immediate, invigorating release in Bertolt Brecht's 1930 play "Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses." As finely staged by the Pacific Resident Theatre, Brecht's Depression-set satire lets no one off the meat hook, impaling everyone along the economic food chain from the filthy rich to the dirt poor.

Joan Dark (Dalia Vosylius) is a naïve and impassioned member of a religious social order who decides to take on Chicago's biggest meat-packing tycoon, Pierpont Mauler (Andrew Parks). The heroine's do-gooder attitude is impossibly saintly but she starts to do more harm than good when the money men find a way to manipulate her trusting nature for their own gain. Eventually, everyone is seduced by dollar signs as poor Joan is forced to walk the stations of the cross leading to martrydom.

The production uses a new liberal translation by Peter Mellencamp that may bother Brechtian purists with its free-wheeling interpolation of American vernacular. But the tone still achieves an appropriately alienating and distanced effect in keeping with Brecht's belief in non-emotional theater. The highly effective ensemble cast channels its archetypal characters with a controlled relish that manages to feel simultaneously disciplined and anarchic.

At times, the production under the direction of Michael Rothhaar comes off as a bit too self-congratulatory as it underscores the parallels between the play and our country's current financial mess, but it's a minor complaint for an otherwise outstanding production. 

"The capitalist system is the only one we've got, which means it's the best one we've got," mews one particularly unctuous fat cat.  Cynical to the max, the play should be required viewing for financial reformists and CNBC blowhards alike.

-- David Ng

"Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses," Pacific Resident Theatre, 707 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug 9. $18. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Tony Pasqualini, left, and Dalia Vosylius. Credit: Vitor Martins