Emulating the breadth characteristic of the epic theater, Fuegi (Germanic & Slavic Lit./Univ. of Maryland) determines that Brecht's theater wasn't really Brecht's theater after all and that Brecht himself, that rather heroic figure of 20th-century drama, was, in fact, a pig of a human being. A misogynist, a liar, and a thief, Bertolt Brecht used and misused people on all sides. Possessed of mesmeric powers that the author compares to those of Hitler, Brecht had no difficulty seducing any number of men and women who would meet his literary as well as his sexual needs. In time, he produced five children by as many women and saw at least a half dozen more offspring aborted. A good deal of his energy seems to have been spent juggling multiple relationships, which Fuegi recounts in great detail to somewhat numbing effect. The most fascinating segments of this hefty volume are those that tell the stories behind Brecht's most famous works. The Threepenny Opera emerges as primarily the work of Elizabeth Hauptmann (Brecht's long-term sometime lover) and Kurt Weill, with final touches by Brecht, all fused together during a volatile journey toward opening night. Similarly, Mother Courage was the product of the conflicting voices of Brecht and Margrete Steffin (another lover), a combination that Fuegi openly admires as resulting in a resonance and insight that neither writer could have accomplished alone. In any case, such revelations inspire the reader to return to the plays themselves for reexamination. Finally, these theatrical tales are set against the political backdrop of the times: the rise of Hitler (whom we meet as an unemployed scenic designer) and encounters with the watchful eyes of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, and the HUAC. A painstakingly researched, if sometimes ploddingly written, work that effectively weaves together the disparate threads that went into the theater we equate with the name Brecht.
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