We’ll have plenty of time to update and reflect on the momentousness of what’s before us as we begin work with a fabulous troupe of actors on Motti Lerner’s new play, The Admission. For now, we share observations about a mountain of a classic on a related theme that we all took in earlier this week, Berthold Brecht’s Mother Courage performing in the round at Arena Stage. That common theme is a reckoning with the brutal realities of war; call it the broken morality of war –and is it true that even a “just” war of Independence — even the most heroic of wars which brought a country into existence might have elements of brutality that test the conscience? — The ironic codes of honor during wartime skewed by the related imperatives to both survive and make a buck so that one might eat are laid out in Brecht’s meditation on war, and they’re voiced in an entirely different, yet related way, in the theatrical meditations Motti Lerner makes in play after play as he looks back at a passel of Israel’s wars.
What do our uninitiated student subscribers make of a visit to the bombed out crater of a brilliant set over at Molly Smith’s house and her highly imaginative production of Mother Courage? What to make of Brecht’s principles of Epic Theatre and Alienation devices as we experience them unfold? We hadn’t a chance to prepare, really. So we’ll debrief in our comments and reflect on the highly theatrical nature of this production.
A lone woman, Anna Fierling, tries to achieve the irreconcilable aims of making money and keeping her family alive during the nightmare of the Thirty Years War.
At the end of a century ravaged by war on an unprecedented scale, Berthold Brecht’s great masterpiece of silence and survival seems only to have grown in stature since its Zurich premiere in 1941…
At the beginning, Mother Courage seeks out war. She is not in any sense an innocent victim. On the contrary, she travels to seek out one war before she moves on to the main conflict (The Thirty Years War) in which the play is generally set. She goes in order to make a living, and armed with a view of things which at this point she believes will see her through. But the whole point of the play is to show the process whereby this acuteness in her becomes redundant, sick, and finally absurd.
Mother Courage finds a war, joins it, goes over to the other side (the Catholics) and then prospers. While she prospers, her philosophy is at its most witty, confident and astute. Yet as the war grinds on, and her children are taken from her, and she crosses back over to her original side (the Protestants), so poverty and waste rob her of the ability to speak about what is happening to her. As the play progresses, and the bodies pile up, her cleverness no longer fits the situation. Her dazzling insights about the nature of war come to seem harsher and more irrelevant. Her brilliance becomes a perverse kind of craziness, stubborn, defiant, and self-willed. But if her way of coping no longer seems adequate, whose does? Katrrin’s heroic resistance, though successful at one level — the town is woken — also results in her own death.
If I were to propose an alternative title for the play, it would be “The Silencing of Mother Courage.”