I sometimes have a hard time with Brecht and his method of disassociating from emotion, but I was able to stay fairly invested in this piece and the characters. I also hear they significantly tightened the runtime to just over two and a half hours (short by Brecht standards) when I saw it. The titular character is not a sympathetic one; she's the one who seeks out war for the profit to be gained from peddling goods out of her cart, with her three children to help her. Or perhaps, that's the only way she knows to survive and care for her children in the war-torn world she finds herself in. One by one she loses her children to the war, but continues following the war and selling her goods, because what else can she do?
|Mother Courage and her children (photo by Bruce Silcox)|
This isn't a musical, but there are songs, mostly sung a capella by the cast, which aid in the storytelling. Sound effects create a somber and sometimes creepy atmosphere (sound designer Eric M.C. Gonzalez, composer Mike Olson, musician Homer Lambrecht). The spacious performance space at the Lab is sparsely populated by a few stools and benches, and one life-sized and beautifully constructed covered wagon, pulled all over the stage by the ensemble (set design by Orin Herfindal). The lighting (designed by Mike Grogan) beautifully plays off the brick walls of the theater, and the cast is dressed in functional military uniforms and ragged peasant garb (costume design by Mary Ann Kelling).
The overall effect of the piece is the futility, senselessness, and absolute destruction of war. That's something that never changes, and a lesson that humans still have not learned after centuries of death and violence.
Mother Courage and Her Children continues at the Lab Theater through March 31.