Liminal Puts a Modern Spin on Brecht/Weill

The Oregonian, August 23, 2002

By Holly Johnson

“The Seven Deadly Sins” by playwright Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill exudes the sensual ’30s Berlin cabaret atmosphere these German artists brought to new levels at the advent of World War II. But add the creative vision of Liminal Performance Group, including the raw sensuality of a meat-market dance floor, a retro- ’80s synthesized score, saturated video projects and more, and you’ve got an update with a contemporary spin in this searing, musically complex piece.

The fact that “Sins” will be sung in the original German (“because it sounds better that way,” according to director Bryan Markovitz) and that English subtitles will be provided brings an even more unusual ambience to Panorama, an all-night dance club in downtown Portland where the show will be staged.

Brecht’s central characters are actually the same person, in a sense. Anna I (played by mezzo-soprano Lyndee Mah) and Anna II (Georgia Luce) metaphorically play the same person, a young woman born of humble background in Louisiana. She travels to a total of seven major cities in America, each of which reveals one of the seven deadly sins in one situation or another. How she reacts to life in these different places bring out the seven sins one by one.

As in most Brechtian dramas, the central character is fighting against the system. “Three Penny Opera” may well be the best-known Brecht-Weill collaboration.

This cast also is fleshed out by a chorus, which features actors Ammon Morris, Branko Glad and Michael Cook.

Markovitz thinks the Portland setting for this complex piece should draw a real mix of people and will hopefully lure some new audience members to the realm of live theater.

“Panorama is right in the middle of the Stark Street blocks in downtown Portland, the gay block in town,” Markovitz said. “It’s this huge, 12,000-square-foot dance club. Like so many things that start out being exclusively for one culture, it bled into being a popular element for other cultures.


“The show is formal and classic in its 20th-century origins. It’s going to attract this really high-end musical crowd because the music is really complicated. It goes beyond house music or club music, and to put that in a setting where we have other people there just to dance, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when those kinds of audiences get together.”

This is what Liminal likes to do, not only break through the various third and other walls of theater, but break down expectations of what live theater should be.

“Anna is a victim of the society she’s in,” Markovitz said, “but she’s also complicit with that society. It’s Brecht’s morality, too. You have to do what you have to do to survive.” In “Sins,” “this is where Brecht’s epic style of theater and Weill’s mixing of genres in music (including jazz, classical and cabaret styles) collided together and really made this powerful statement in theater.”

Markovitz is one of the key members of Liminal, a group of actors who met at Trinity University, a small liberal arts institute of learning in San Antonio. The ensemble’s goal lies directly in the name of their company.

What exactly does “liminal” mean, anyway? Markovitz explains.

“It’s a Latin term that means ‘at the threshold’ or ‘betwixt and between,’ “ he said. “We drew it from an anthropologist, a performance theorist, whom we like a lot, named Victor Turner. He talks about the state of liminality in society as being a place where you’re between one thing and another. As in theater and sports events, there are times when daily life is suspended.

“We decided this was a good name for us as a company because we try to bridge the area between everyday life and theater, that moment where belief is highly suspended. We try to bring those two moments together so you’re not always sure what’s theatrical and what’s not.”