The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

At the beginning of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, an old truck carrying three fugitives from the law, Leocadia Begbick, Trinity Moses, and Willy (also known as Fatty) the Bookkeeper, breaks down in the middle of a desert in the American West. Although they intended to become rich by prospecting for gold, presumably on the West Coast, they decide that it would be simpler and more lucrative to build a city and lure rich prospectors into their town with liquor and women. Mahagonny, which is erected in a couple of weeks, attracts Jenny Smith from Oklahoma and six other prostitutes. Eventually, men from big cities begin arriving at the “city of nets” to experience what they have heard to be a paradise.

Among the new arrivals are four lumberjacks from Alaska: Paul Ackermann, the main character (also known as Jim MacIntyre, Jim Mahoney, or Jim Mallory in some versions), and his three friends Jacob Schmidt (Jack O’Brien), Heinrich Merg (Bank Account Bill), and Joseph Lettner (Alaska Wolf Joe). They meet Leocadia Begbick, who introduces them to her “girls”; Paul decides to take Jenny after Jacob finds her too expensive. Soon, however, the city finds itself in a crisis: Inflation and the rising crime rate cause people to leave in alarming numbers. Even Paul considers moving on, because he does not feel completely satisfied with his new life. He senses that something is missing, but his friends persuade him to stay.

In the next scene, the four men, along with others, are drinking and smoking in front of the Hotel of the Rich Men. Signs surround them forbidding them to sing obscene songs and make noise. Again, Paul expresses his misgivings about staying in the city, because it is too quiet and boring. News of an approaching hurricane, however, disturbs their daydreams and frightens the town’s inhabitants. Only Paul relishes the upcoming storm, because it will bring some change, even if it is in the form of destruction, into his monotonous life. Begbick senses the danger in his attitude and warns, “Fierce is the hurricane/ Fiercer still is the typhoon/ But the worst of all is man.” Taking advantage of the situation, Paul invites the people of Mahagonny to do whatever they wish. An arrow on a large map visible in the background marks the hurricane’s course toward Mahagonny. Just as the...

(The entire section is 954 words.)