The story of a peasant girl who rescues the abandoned child of a rich family, and raises him as her own at all costs is hardly a matter for comedy. But Max Webster and Mia Theil Have's Gurukul staging of The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Khariko Ghero) is characterised by just that.
Well-known for his aversion to sappy emotions, Bertolt Brecht used theatre to experiment with political ideas. Perhaps the humorous lines are meant to balance the sadness of the peasant girl's plight and anarchical social reality, prepping the audience for the objective reflection that Brecht would have wanted. Either way, it suited the palate of the Nepali theatregoers present, who gave the play a warm reception.
There is no doubt this play-within-a-play is a political study, which is as much as about the peasant girl as it is about the judge who eventually presides over her case. Pitching the classical nature vs. nurture debate, it is a story about what makes a good mother, a good judge, and at the end of the day, a good leader. It is as apt in our political scenario as it was in Brecht's portrayal of the Soviet Union following the Second World War.
In many ways, The Caucasian Chalk Circle seems just perfect for Nepali adaptation. The play's original techniques – deadpan humour and storytelling through music – are tried and tested methods in Nepali artistic traditions. Sunil Pokharel continues to outdo himself as the judge Akal Bahadur, while Pashupati Rai's peasant girl is an endearing character. The finale seemed slightly anti-climactic, but seeing how Brecht was primarily interested in analyses, he probably would not have cared.
Runs until 1 May at Rimal Theatre, Gurukul.