DiaTribe: "Mother Courage" at Minneapolis' Lab Theater Resonates for a Contemporary Audience

This is a Guest Post by Sheila Regan, a freelance writer and theater artist living in Minneapolis. She frequently writes for TC Daily Planet, Patch.com, and contributes to City Pages’ Dressing Room blog, among other publications.
War is hell. That’s the message of Mother Courage and Her Children, written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939. Ostensibly about the Thirty Years’ War, between the Protestants and the Catholics during the 17th Century, the play was written as a response to World War I, just as Brecht was seeing the rise of Nazi Germany and the oncoming of World War II. This month, Chicago’s Bricklayers Theatre and Paris’ Collectif Masque present a version of the play, translated by Tony Kushner, that shows the play’s relevance today.  Check it out at Minneapolis’ Lab Theater until February 20th.
At the center of the story is Anna Fierling (nicknamed Mother Courage, played by local MOT actress Barbra Berlovitz) who travels in her wagon along with her three children selling goods to soldiers. “War is good for business,” Fierling says, and indeed the longer the war goes on, the more profitable her business becomes. The character of Mother Courage exemplifies Brecht’s use of “the anti-hero”- a character that though is the main character, displays non-idealistic qualities. Mother Courage certainly is not noble: she haggles (sometimes at the cost of those she supposedly loves), lies to authorities, and in general puts herself first before all others. However, she also exhibits some moments of caring and kindness.
Berlovitz’s performance balances the selfish and unselfish qualities of Mother Courage perfectly. She embraces the character’s humor, her base ways of operating in the world, but also shows a woman simply trying to survive- and displays moments of pathos and loss as she slowly loses all the people she loves.
The translation of Brecht’s play by Jewish writer Tony Kushner is simply fantastic. Kushner’s translation is smart, contemporary, and fresh. It both enlivens the humor of the script and also drives the harsher commentary by Brecht home in a way that shows how relevant the play still is today.
In addition to Berlovitz, the cast is all very good. All of the actors where masks, with lively, colorful costumes created by MOT costume designer Sonya Berlovitz. Of particular note is Kyle Cadotte, who shows enormous range throughout the three characters she plays. Her characterization of Yvette, the prostitute, is hilarious and wonderful.
While the original version of Mother Courage utilized music by Jewish-German composer Kurt Weill, who was Brecht’s long time collaborator, this production has a new score composed by Mark Messing, of the Chicago band Mucca Pazza, who like Kushner, brings the play up to date.
I had the opportunity to see this play when it premiered at the University of Chicago last summer, and the performance, while great in that small little theatre, has improved at The Lab Theater, which provides a larger open space for the actor’s physical interpretation of the text. The one downfall of the Lab is that the acoustics are not the greatest, and while the actors could always be heard and understood, the music didn’t have as much of an impact because it at times got lost in the vast theatre.
The other difference between the previous version in Chicago is that the current production lacks the projections that it had, which would bracket each scene with a supertitle. The current production has the actors speak the titles before each scene, which works fine, but I missed the convention of the supertitles which is an iconic aspect of Brecht’s style
Mother Courage and Her Children runs through February 20 at The Lab Theater, at 700 N 1st St, Minneapolis. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays-Saturdays, and at 3:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $10-20. See bricklayerstheatre.org for further details.

In accordance with FTC guidelines concerning bloggers, I’m disclosing that Bricklayers Theatre Co. provided me with a complimentary ticket to review the show. My opinions are my own.