Mother Courage and her Children at Shakespeare & Co.
Aug. 2, 2013 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children now playing at Tina Packer’s Shakespeare and Co. theatre under the insightful direction of Tony Simotes, is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. The play is set in central Europe in the 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War, which was fought largely between Catholics and Protestants.
The play demands a large cast and style of production that is deliberately alienating as it weaves together its story in a series of scenes, songs, and projected text summaries and it is never stagy. These are real people. The plot concerns Mother Courage’s unsuccessful attempt to feed and care for her children, two sons and a daughter, during the dozen years that the play covers. She has set herself up with a wagon pulled onto the stage and from it she makes her living selling food and goods to soldiers.
The wagon becomes a symbol always onstage reflecting her restless life and questionable prosperity. By the play’s end, it is a dilapidated cart and she is like an animal pulling it. Olympia Dukakis is marvelous in this, her 5th time grappling with the convoluted character. Although she is on stage most of the time, she never draws attention to herself if stress belongs to another character.
The play opens as she and the children drag onstage the cart in which she and they live. Her co-stars, Apolo Dukakis as the Chaplain and John Douglas Thompson as the Cook, each bring their own relationship and attraction to Mother Courage’s conniving. Each role is played competently.
All members of the cast are well drawn, and the audience cannot help being drawn by the most vulnerable. Of the 3 children, Kittrin, who hears but cannot speak, played by Brook Parks, moves through this role convincingly, giving her life (and the red shoes she finally gets), to save all the children in the village from attack.
Despite calamities, this play is not depressing. The characters and situations that Brecht has woven into his play have produced a gem. It is a joy to have been able to see it on a local stage. Director Tony Simotes and Olympia Dukakis have pooled their talents to create an evening in the theatre this reviewer hopes to have the time to see again before it closes in September.