Bertolt Brecht’s first full-length play, Baal, is seldom performed these days and it’s easy to see why judging by the Looking Glass Theatre’s bewildering new production. In early 20th-century Germany, the young poet Baal spends his days bar-hopping, bed-hopping, and stirring up trouble with his cohort of drunken low-lifes. His aimless existence takes a pivotal turn for the tragic when he seduces a friend’s wife, driving her to commit suicide. Guilt and death become Baal’s constant companions thereafter but the youth never completely renounces his libertine ways.
This gender-bending revival casts a woman (Jadelynn Stahl) in the role of Baal, presumably to underscore the androgyny and polysexual appetites of the protagonist. (David Bowie played Baal in a 1982 BBC television production.) Casting a woman is an appropriately Brechtian choice and an unsubtle one as well. This production never lets you forget you’re watching a Brecht play, from the Kurt Weill-inspired musical score (by Alan S. Hewitt) down to the decadent Weimar design. The cast’s eagerness to play up the sleazy ambiance quickly grows tiresome. Strangely, the most convincing human interaction occurs when Baal starts conversing with a corpse. The terse bloodlessness of the scene is by far the production’s most eloquent moment.