mother courage

‘Mother Courage’: A dose of the Brecht reality

Theatre Vertigo delivers an intimate, intense production of Tony Kushner's translation

Robert Wyllie, Paige Jones & Matthew Kerrigan in “Mother Courage.”/Theatre Vertigo

By EMILY STEVENS

Hey, have you guys see anything good on TV lately? Yeah, me neither. I did, however, see something pretty good on Saturday night. Theatre Vertigo’s ambitious mounting of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-war play Mother Courage.

If you’re not familiar with it, the play follows scrappy peddler Anna Fierling, a mother nicknamed ‘Courage’ because she was brave enough (or desperate enough) to drag her cart of wares right up to the front lines of battle during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The play is a perfect example of Brecht’s “instructional theater”: We learn about Marx’s concept of alienation—the notion that capitalism separates us from our humanity—through Courage’s tragedy, specifically that her children end up fueling the fruitless war because of her preoccupation with money. Or as Brecht put it more simply, “Mother Courage haggles while her children die.”

We meet Courage’s children in the first scene: Eilif (the smart one), Swiss Cheese (the honest one), and Kattrin (the dumb one), and also learn that they will all be dead before the war is through. When recruiters come for her sons, Courage fights them off with a knife, but is instantly distracted when one of the soldiers wants to see her wares and Eilif is easily plucked away.

Eilif is destroyed by his bravery, hailed as a hero for slitting the throats of rival farmers and their cattle during the war and incarcerated for the very same act in the play’s brief scene of peace. Of course Mother Courage is not there to see him off to his firing squad or to bury him, because she is at the market trying to sell her goods while the prices of war are still high. Her haggling also keeps her from saving Swiss Cheese, who takes his soldier’s duty so closely to heart that he ends up ensnared by the rival army. His contribution to the war effort is not recognized, and Courage is forced to disown him, lest the enemy soldiers take her . Kattrine gives every ounce of herself to the war—her voice, her beauty, her life—and in the end it truly does not matter, her one act of defiance only perpetuates the cycle.

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