Written between 1918 and 1920, Drums in the Night was one of Bertolt Brecht's earliest plays. Brecht's experiences as a medic in World War I inspired him to write about a soldier's life after war.
The play begins with Anna Balicke mourning that her lover, Andreas Kragler, has gone missing in the war and presumably dead. Her parents want her to forget about him and marry a wealthy man named Frederick Murke. She eventually agrees and they celebrate their engagement in a local bar. Kragler arrives and asks Anna to leave with him. As a revolution brews in the background, Anna must decide if she will marry Murke or leave with Kragler. We discover Kragler withering away from psychological damages from the war.
In our production, the play was set in present day America. Kragler was a soldier returning home from Iraq. Director Sarah Wansley presented the creative team with a painting by George Grosz (Image A - left) as an inspiration for the last act of the play (Image B - below). It was important create a soundscape that was able to capture the chaos and brightness that was represented in the painting. Mixing echoing voices that traveled around the room with music that had been heard in previous acts, I experimented bringing the audience into Kragler's mind.
With this expressionistic final act in mind, we explored other moments of suspended realism. During the engagement celebration in Act 2, Anna screams in disbelief as Kragler stumbles into the bar. In this moment of confusion, the drunk party goers become rowdy and disoriented. Slowly, the chaos melts away into the background as Anna and Kragler become lost in each other (Image C - below). The noisy bar atmosphere slowly transforms into Charles Gounod's Ave Maria. Anna is coming into terms that Kragler is alive and standing in front of her. As the music builds, Anna relives and recounts her nightmares when she believed that Kragler was dead. Kragler asks her to marry him and before she can make a decision, they are abruptly interrupted by a waiter and the beautiful moment is broken. Ave Maria disappears and the noise of the crowded bar returns.
In order to introduce this musical style we've chosen, we created a prologue using text based on Brecht's Ballad of the Dead Soldier. It tells the story of a soldier who died early in the war. The government decides to dig up the body and re-enlist him to get their full worth of a soldier. After researching different versions of the text and music, I collaborated with actor Tesiana Elie (Image D - above left), who played Manke, to create something that would make most sense for our production. The prologue was set up to be Anna's dream of soldiers dying in a battlefield (Image E - above right). The soundscape had sounds of destruction layered with deep tones to suggest an ominous environment while the sad melody of the music was sung on top.