The Exception and the Rule

Lightbox Studio at Liminal Space, 403 NW 5th, 231-0839, Thurs-Sun Nov. 20-23, $7

In Lightbox Studio's newest experiment, three directors have taken on Bertolt Brecht's The Exception and the Rule, a short play on justice, and power. The audience is instructed to "Observe the conduct of these people closely," and from the outset, the action of the players begs 20/20 analysis, even inquisition. But to subject the actors to surveillance is not enough; the conduct of the playwright and the directors need also be observed closely. The audience then is initiated as the Judge, sitting high, in the dark, waiting for the next piece of evidence.

Exhibit A: Director Ian Greenfield's piece is the most disciplined adaptation of Brecht's text, introducing the essential elements of the narrative. A Merchant (Jef Awada) travels with his servant Coolie (Jenny McLean), en route to a profiteering business meeting. The Merchant is a brutal megalomaniac who dogs his servant with closed fists and threats of violence. McLean's Cooley carries the diminutive nobility of the subjugated, whose sole comforts are food and work. The segment best captures the aesthetic of the avant-garde, from the proletariat rope-and-linen design of the stage and costumes to the seasick songs and Bauhaus black eyeliner of the Narrator (Kelley Bryant).

Exhibit B: Bryan Markovitz's segment is less an adaptation of Brecht's play than a processing of Greenfield's work. The power dynamics of the preceding scene are exploded, setting the players on an even level. Dialogue is abandoned, and each gesture carries a ritualistic weight. Each codified action is performed in a pantomime ballet. Amazingly, the themes of subjugation, violence, and inequality are not merely left intact, but are deepened by the raw physicality of the actors.

Exhibit C: Filmmaker Brett Vail steers clear of any pretence of textual adaptation in a jokey video complete with a DVD-style "director's commentary." Vail (or at least his self-important director persona) admits to not ever having read Brecht's play. Though completely uneven with the preceding two pieces of live theater, Vail's video cleverly notes the contemporary obsession with multimedia technology and "The Process," capturing Brechtian irony in one cool, albeit smarmy swoop. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT