Saint Joan of the Stockyards (Die heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe)
by Bertolt Brecht
“Saint Joan” shows a cattle market with all its meat and gore – in the throes of a crisis: overproduction. Here at Chicago’s meat-packing plant, in advanced capitalism, the different social classes stand in stark contrast: Joan Dark, member of the 'Black Straw Hats,’ a group similar to the Salvation Army, sees the hungry workers who have been dismissed by the plant’s management. Her investigation of the cause leads her to meat baron Pierpont Mauler. But the more Joan tries to persuade Mauler of her moral views, and intercede on the workers' behalf, the more powerful Mauler becomes. Joan becomes more radical and demonstrates solidarity with the workers, who are on strike, in a snowstorm. Frozen out by the Black Straw Hats, ultimately she proves too weak for the harsh conditions and deprivation. She is unable to prevent the catastrophe at the meat packing plant. Only a handful of the workers are eventually re-employed, at starvation wages.
The play, written in 1929/30, sees Bertolt Brecht working through the causes of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression. In doing so, he also draws on Friedrich Schiller’s “The Virgin of Orléans” as a foil and counterpoint. Nicolas Stemann, born in 1968 and well-known for his radical, playful, musical productions of Elfriede Jelinek’s texts, takes on Brecht’s play and thus the themes of capitalism with all its crises and regenerative power, and resistance.
December 16, 2009