Tribute to Brecht / Weill. Lotte Lenya sings “The Alabama Song”; Jack Foley reads his essay “Mahagonny as Zeitgeist.”
This passage is from that essay:
Brecht has brought the supreme example of authority onto his stage: God. And he has shown people saying No to God. If the men of Mahagonny can say No to God, can’t we say No to a play? Can’t we respond to “Cannot help ourselves and you and no one” by saying “No! That’s not true: we can help the living”? It’s an extraordinary moment because the supposedly didactic Brecht is being anything but explicit here. (In a 1926 “Conversation” he insists that “I leave the maximum freedom of interpretation. The sense of my plays is immanent. You have to fish it out for yourself.”) In Mahagonny Brecht is taking the chance that his audience will completely misunderstand him. On the other hand, those who get the point will (like me) remember it forever, because, though the playwright has deliberately prompted the response, the response has occurred in the audience’s consciousness, not in the play itself. Brecht is not only trying to “instruct” his audience; he is trying to transform it.