Play #93: Orion

The play is set in Berlin in June of 1933.  Playwright Bertolt Brecht is getting ready to leave Germany for the safety of Denmark.  Before he goes, he must placate or otherwise listen to the forlorn demands for affection and loyalty addressed to him by the various women in his circle—Elisabeth Hauptmann, Ruth Berlau and others—most of whom, except for his wife, Helene Weigel, were both lovers and, if you do the research, unacknowledged collaborators in the writing and staging of his plays. 

As the play opens, Brecht is talking with distraught actress and writer Margarete Steffin (1908-1941)—who appears to have contributed a good deal to Brecht’s Galileo and to his The Good Woman of Setzuan.  Steffin is already suffering from the tuberculosis that will kill her eight years hence.  Brecht tells the unhappy Steffin that he would cheerfully divorce Helene Weigel and marry her—if only she were not ill (though he has pointedly refused all along to give her money that would help to secure her the treatment she needs—and never gets!).

[Note: What follows is derived from a single page—page 299—of John Fuegi’s still controversial Brecht & Co.: Sex, Politics, and The Making of Modern Drama (New York: Grove Press, 1994)]

STEFFIN:  Why don’t you understand?  I need to have something of yours while you’re gone!  Some part of you to be here with me!

BRECHT (reaching into his pocket):  I’m going to give you a ring.  [he places three cheap metal rings on the table between them].

STEFFIN (crestfallen):  There are three identical rings here.  Who are the other two for?

BRECHT (irritated):  What does it matter?  Choose one for yourself.

STEFFIN (picking a ring, almost at random):  Thank you.

BRECHT (with ersatz heartiness):  There’s more.

STEFFIN (weary):  Yes?

BRECHT: Yes, a second gift—this one from heaven!

STEFFIN (depleted):  I don’t understand.

BRECHT:  Look up at the night sky.

STEFFIN (she glances up):  Yes.  And so?

BRECHT (patiently):  The constellation you see wheeling above us is Orion—the great hunter.

STEFFIN:  Yes?  But I don’t understand what you are showing me.  You spoke of a heavenly gift?

BRECHT (triumphantly):  This is it!  From now on, while I am away, we can both look up at Orion—from wherever we are—and be joined in the heavens!!

[Steffin buries her head in her hands and weeps]