As Rehearsals Convene for THE ADMISSION, The Morality of War is Contested Cross Town in MOTHER COURAGE

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.

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Below, a blurb, from the opening page of the published edition of Mother Courage by Berthold Brecht, a version adapted for The National Theatre of London by Sir David Hare in 1995.

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…

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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.”

What are some other complementary clauses we might afix to the title Mother Courage?
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32 thoughts on “As Rehearsals Convene for THE ADMISSION, The Morality of War is Contested Cross Town in MOTHER COURAGE

  1. At the beginning of Mother Courage, I was not really expecting to enjoy the play. I’m not sure why. It was in a stressed out mood and I think that I was expecting the play to hit on themes that were too serious for my mood. Call me cynical and unfair, but I remember upon first meeting Mother Courage’s three children, I thought “I bet at least one of these kids is gonna die. And I’m probably not going to care.” I just didn’t feel attached to any of the personalities of the children. I was also very off-put but the demeanor of Mother Courage. I think this is partly because I thought I was supposed to like Mother Courage. But then as the play progressed, I realized that she was not supposed to be the mother who had the war and mothering and life figured out, and I started to like her a little more.

    I was also proven wrong about my initial thoughts regarding the deaths of Mother Courage’s kids. I was very moved by the deaths of Swiss Cheese and Katterin. I definitely warmed up to the play as it progressed.

    I think it’s hard not to appreciate a play like this, at least on some level. It was beautiful. The music reflected the haunting hopelessness of the actions of the characters, and their inability to make any difference in their fates. Also, it was fun to watch serious war lords dance around in circles to the music. (Plus who wasn’t amazed by the coolness of picking up a violin bow and playing a saw with it?!?)

    Definitely a very engaging show. I’m still not absolutely sure what I was supposed to think while walking away from it, though. What was I supposed to make of this Mother Courage character? The woman who haggled to long and caused the death of Swiss Cheese? The woman who constantly reminded her dumb daughter Katterin that she was too ugly to find a good husband? The woman whose openly “favorite” child ended up being a blood-hungry murdered, scarred forever by his actions during the war?

    I don’t know. I get the sense that you aren’t supposed to hate this character (her name is “Courage” after all), but I have a hard time understanding where her priorities lied during the play.

    • I think it’s interesting that you bring up Mother Courage’s priorities in terms of what we’re supposed to think of her. I think her priorities were the same as everyone else’s around her–survival. First for herself, then for her children, then for any others she cared about. Her haggling for Swiss Cheese’s life was, I think, a warring between her desire to survive herself–if she gave up everything she had for him, she would likely starve–and her desire to keep her child alive. I think she does have a little bit of a character arc, though, because to me it seems just possible that if she hadn’t had that situation with Swiss Cheese, she might not have stayed with Kattrin in the end. You could also make the argument, what’s the point in keeping your family alive if you aren’t there to care for them after? It could partially be the old “put on your own oxygen mask before you assist those around you,” though I don’t think even Mother Courage would claim she was that much of a saint.

    • I agree, it’s difficult to not appreciate a play like this, especially with its original music and choreography and the novelty of having the actors also serve as the orchestra. I too was impressed by the saw/violin contraption.
      I think the greatest part of this play is Mother Courage’s inability to be very mothering. She values skills such as greed that are only found in one of her children. Her other two, Swiss Cheese and Katterin, are more like baggage to Mother Courage; unless she can use them to further her profit she really has no use for them. It isn’t that she thinks Katterin is ugly, it’s that she needs Katterin to help her push her cart and take inventory. Her needs always come before the needs of her children, something we don’t associate with a traditional motherly role.

    • I think it is interesting that you bring up what we are supposed to think of Mother Courage’s character. It is an important question. You bring up that she cares deeply about her children. However, in reality, she does not really show it often or in an appropriate manner. The woman is constantly harping on Katterin and telling her, she is not enough. As for Swiss Cheese, all she needs is one witty line and he doesn’t know what’s going on. I agree with you when you mention that even for her favorite son, he does not turn out so well after the war, or even during the war. What does the outcome of her favorite say about Mother Courage? She raised him, and she ruined him, just as she did for Katterin and Swiss Cheese. Her business was more important that the well being of her son, Swiss Cheese, and it ended up costing him his life. If Mother Courage actually does care about her children, then she shows her affection in a unique way.

  2. At the end of Mother Courage and Her Children, I was left without much empathy towards the characters, but with a better understanding of the negative effects of war. I did recognize that the play was anti-war and that certain scenes were meant to show the dreadful effects of war, specifically the plight of those who are fighting and of those who are on the sidelines.

    However, I think that my apathy towards the characters resulted in a lack of investment in the plot. I never fully understood the characters. Mother Courage was the only one that I felt was fully developed to the point where I was engaged with her and her actions, whereas her children, the priest, the cook, and others were all very shallow. Her children were each reduced to one main characteristic – Eilif to his masculinity, Swiss Cheese to his stupidity, and Kattrin to her dumbness.

    This did make for some comical scenes, like when Kattrin is trying to explain to Swiss Cheese that the enemy soldiers had come by, but she had just poured drinks and he asks questions along the lines of, “What? Did you get something in your eye?” I appreciated these moments because they are when I felt most connected to the play, as the comedy was easy to understand. Another example is the exchange between Mother Courage and the priest about chopping firewood, which included very witty banter.

    However, I rarely understood who the enemy was, who was Protestant, who was Catholic, where they were fighting, why they were fighting. The interruption of the songs added to my confusion, since I would have a hard time connecting the plot before and after a song. Still, the music, singing, dancing, was impressive and very entertaining.

    But during the play, I was caught up in trying to follow the storyline, along with trying to understand the characters more. Looking back, I realize that these may not have been important. Perhaps the lack of development and lack of focus on the specifics of the plot was purposeful. The vagueness could be showing that the characters and the situation could represent any person in any war, showing a general anti-war message.

    We see that a mother loses her three children, people go hungry, soldiers live in dire conditions, societies suffer, and more, all because of war. We see the negative effects of war. Also, the play has a strong message about survival, and its relation to selfishness and greed. Mother Courage profits from the war. She rejoices when it starts and mourns when it ends. This observation in itself is enough to make the audience think. Further, we see that this woman who profits from the war is the one who loses the most in it. She mainly loses her children due to her own greed, arguably. Swiss Cheese is shot when she won’t pay the $200 to the enemy soldiers; she only offered $120, and by the time she changed her mind it was too late. Kattrin is killed when she is banging the drum to try to save the people of the town, including her mother who had to go into the town on business. A different commentary is present in the death of Eilif in that he is killed for a crime of stealing and murder that is illegal in peacetime, but was rewarded in wartime, showing how the lines of legality and justice are blurred during wartime.

    Overall, I left the play thinking that Mother Courage got what she deserved, in a way. She rejoiced when war would start, when soldiers would be killed, when families would lose loved ones, and in the end, it is her who loses her children. But when reflecting and thinking more, I realize that I do sympathize with her because I understand that she was only doing what she needed to do to survive. This tension between the necessity of survival and the injustice of desiring war complicates the morality of Mother Courage’s actions for me. In the end, the play shows how damaging the war can be on all people because of this necessity of survival that may be at odds with morality and justice.

    • Bridget I feel like I had the same response as you when I walked out of the play. I too struggled at times to follow exactly where the story line had gone, and at times was lost with respect to who was fighting who. I don’t believe I ever knew why. At first I was a little upset about this. I knew Mother Courage and Her Children is considered a classic play, and though I don’t usually like classics simply because they are classics, I really wanted to like this play. As I think about it further, however, I think this is all of part of Bertolt Brecht’s plan. I think he wants to show us the overwhelming effects of being in a war zone for so long. I think that at a certain point Mother Courage does not necessarily even know who is fighting who, and I don’t know that she ever knows why. I think this is all just part of the way Brecht makes his statement about how pervasive and horrific war truly is.

  3. “Mother Courage and Her Children” at Arena Stage was up-tempo, dynamic, and fun, very much contrary to the sluggish and monotonous war it depicted. The bursts of song and the ensuing pandemonium of movement were refreshing. Kathleen Turner was a natural fit for Mother Courage. I do not know if it is possible to find another person who could perform the role with such grit, humor, poise, and dominance. While Turner’s Mother Courage definitely took the spotlight, I think Erin Weaver as Kattrin was phenomenal as well. It is rare that someone with no speaking lines can make such an impact in a play. Every grizzly, hard-edged, self-interested quality Mother Courage exudes is balanced by Kattrin’s innocence and attempts at peace. She has a desire for love, an affinity for children, and hopes to keep her family together. The play follows this dichotomy of a mother and daughter with two opposing personalities thrown together on this maelstrom of a journey. In almost every scene, the timid and unimposing Kattrin is downplayed by her thunderous mother who puts her daughter down, mentioning how she will never find a husband especially due to the way she looks with the scar on her eye. Mother Courage seems to adopt a survivor of the fittest mentality; you are either strong like her son Eilif and will succeed, or you are stupid like Swiss Cheese and will struggle. Regardless, it is clear she loves all three of her children, though I do not think she will ever be a contender for Mom of the Year award.
    Another notable aspect of the play is Mother Courage both profits and loses from the war. This sets up a contrast of the value of human life versus the value of money. Each time one of her children dies, she is at the market or seems to be obsessing over money. In Swiss Cheese’s case, she kept balancing his life versus $200. Something to ponder is if there were no war to make money off of, would she still be prioritizing her cart above all else including, at times, her children?

    • I like that you mentioned the contrast of the tempo of war – an agonizingly long war – with the tempo of the play. Because the cheery musical numbers and the surprising moments of comedy did seem somewhat incongruous in a story that is so heavily about death. When I first flipped open the program and saw the list of musical numbers, I thought there had been a mistake.

      But between the music and between the moments of comedy, there was so much dreariness. Depressing conversations, death, Mother Courage and whoever is with her at the time just pulling the cart in a circle – perhaps this is an echo of war itself, lots of waiting and then some moments of excitement. Another instance of the structure of the play mirroring the subject matter, but this time in a very macabre fashion.

    • I completely agree that some of the best acting in the play was achieved by Kattrin’s actress, despite the fact that her role had no lines. Her face expressed even the most subtle of emotions. I loved watching Kattrin grow throughout the play. I was cheering for her when she finally found her “voice” through the pot that awoke the city at the end of the play.

      Kattrin’s relationship with Mother Courage was also a really interesting part of the play for me. Mother Courage clearly loved Kattrin, as demonstrated by choices throughout the play like her decision to leave Cook after he proposes abandoning Kattrin in favor of their own home. However, Mother Courage also treated Kattrin pretty awfully, calling her ugly and openly calling her oldest son her “favorite.”

      In some ways, I think this was a way for Mother Courage to deal with her fear that Kattrin would be attacked by a soldier. The only vague reason that we get for Kattrin’s inability to speak is that a soldier once stuffed something in her mouth. Clearly, her mom was afraid that something like this would happen again. I also think that Mother Courage’s extremely negative reaction to Kattrin wearing the red boots was because she was trying to stifle Kattrin’s sexuality. She was likely afraid of a sexual assault, which weren’t uncommon during war.

    • I too felt that the play had a very refreshing outlook on a topic like war. It can be very easy to be really depressed in a play that speaks about the horrors and impacts of war on people. It seems that the play didn’t take the “dark path” to convey its message, although there were some very difficult moments throughout the play. I thought the main cast was perfect for the roles that they played — they just seemed to fit PERFECTLY. The singing and dancing and movement was the most entertaining for me. I really appreciate your comments about the mother-daughter relationship that you observed. I did get the feeling that Kattrin often foiled her mother’s actions. In the end, both are extremely courageous and bold in their distinct ways.

  4. I did not read the synopsis of Mother Courage and Her Children very carefully before attending the play, and so when I pictured the play, I pictured a mother sitting at home, waiting for her children to come back from the war. I anticipated a searing message about the bravery of those left behind, and how it is different but no less than the bravery of those on the front lines. I basically had the blog post already written in my head.

    I shouldn’t have. My expectations were WILDLY inaccurate.

    Mother Courage and Her Children, as we all know, is about a woman who hunts down war to make profit while trying to keep her children safe. She is smart and wily, but the thing about war is: you can’t really outsmart it. It is bigger and more senseless than our minds can really grasp. This is symbolized by the eventual loss of her three children – which is something that she tries to prevent, and it could be argued that she is in the business she is in to provide for her children, but her sheer proximity to the violence means that all of her children eventually succumb. (I’ve thought a lot about why Mother Courage herself does not die, and I have no answer. Maybe if you’re smart, you can protect yourself if no one else – we did see that every time her children died, she was off negotiating a business deal. Or maybe she was just lucky.) Also, notably, at the end of the play she’s not aware that all of her children are dead. I wonder if her indomitable spirit would have been quenched if she’d known that she completely failed in her quest to keep her children safe.

    If I had to rename Mother Courage and Her Children, I would maybe include something about the war in the title. I can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound incredibly cheesy and/or spoilery. Mother Children Fails To Protect Her Children From War? (There’s a reason I’m not a playwright.) Something that indicates both her mission and her failure.

    Some quick technical notes: I thought the set of this play was brilliant, with the four exits and the stage in the center of the crowd. The sparse staging and the random items falling from the ceiling (rain? what?) actually really worked with a war story. I thought that Kattrin was extraordinarily well-acted – with such a loud cast, in a musical, it would be easy for a mute character to be overlooked, but Erin Weaver did not let that happen. And Kathleen Turner as Mother Courage, of course, was outstanding.

    • Caroline, I too was very impressed with Erin Weaver’s acting as Kattrin. Even in scenes filled with other actors, I found myself concentrating on her, despite the fact that she was the lone mute actor. All of the actors played their parts so well, and that was the part of the play that I most enjoyed – observing how they were acting and appreciating how well they embodied each role. I enjoyed this more than the actual plot, the message, the conflict. I felt that the play didn’t really have a climax, rather it hummed along at a steady pace, and this led me to feel confused at times. However, when a play includes the loss of three children, I understand that there may not be solely one climax. When thinking about this, I related back to your question about why Mother Courage herself does not die. Perhaps the main climax, the highest point of action, the most shocking scene, would be the death of Mother Courage; It would be the most riveting point. But Bertolt Brecht wasn’t focusing the play around one character, he was showing the constant effects of the war on everyone, and I think Mother Courage’s survival helps us focus on how war affects society as a whole, instead of just one character.

  5. To add on to your comment about Mother Courage being “smart and wily, but the thing about war is: you can’t really outsmart it. It is bigger and more senseless than our minds can really grasp”– I think it is very interesting that Mother Courage was this super imposing and dominating character that seemed to have control over those around her. However, the one thing that was bigger than herself that she couldn’t control was the war. War took away the things she cared about the most, her one immaterial love, her children. This was the only time that I saw Mother Courage being left to the mercy of another force and the only time she was seen being vulnerable.

  6. To be honest, I was disappointed with Mother Courage and Her Children. With the talent involved – especially because of Kathleen Turner in the starring role – I expected a lot more out of the play. The premise was great, and I really like the concept of having the stage set in the center of the audience. It’s a great way to utilize more space, and to get closer to the people sitting in their seats. Perhaps my expectations were past the level they should be, but if something feels truly feels great to me, my beginning expectations are not of a concern.

    The biggest problem for me was Mother Courage’s relationship with her children. I understood the relationship with her sons a bit more. It made sense that she was fondest of Eilif, as he was a class A male. He was ambitious and brawny; he was a buy willing to buy into a war machine empire. She also made it her duty to keep Swiss Cheese out of the war. This made sense to me as well. However, the deeper the play delved into Mother Courage’s interpersonal relationships, the faster it unraveled for me. The biggest complaint I have is her relationship with Kattrin.

    I attempted to place myself into the time period to think about how I would react to having a mute but capable daughter. This is when the dichotomy of Mother Courage really began to rip holes in the script. She is first and foremost a businesswoman – willing to go to any lengths to ensure her continued success, but still attempting to be overbearing on her daughter. It would make sense for her to marry off Kattrin so that she could pursue her business endeavors. When Mother Courage’s daughter died, she showed little remorse and just continued on with her life. It was upsetting and did not feel realistic at all.

    It’s not that I am incapable of relating to or embracing characters with less-than-good intentions. In fact, villains tend to be my favorite characters in movies. What I do have a problem with is characters that lack depth and consistency. Mother Courage was not a fully developed protagonist – she straddled the lines between strong independent woman, neglectful mother, and greedy businesswoman. There was never any kind of balance achieved with her, and when they main character is at the same time underdone and overcooked, the rest of the play is bound to suffer the same fate. This is the same opinion I share about Mother Courage and Her Children

  7. I would first like to comment on what a fantastic production this was. Entering the theater at Arena Stage and seeing the dug out pit in the middle raised my expectations, and as we watched the play all of my expectations were met. How amazing that this small, talented cast was able to play not only a variety of roles but also serve as the orchestra? The choreography and the musical numbers were a great addition to this play as well. They really fit with the script and made the show easy to appreciate by a modern audience. I was really quite impressed. Also I loved hearing Kathleen Turner sing.
    I also loved how Mother Courage remained true to character. When Swiss Cheese was in peril, she didn’t become an overly loving mother that would do anything to keep her child alive. Rather, she made it clear to the rest of the characters and the audience where her priorities were: her cart. Even when given the opportunity to run an inn, she claims to want to stay with her daughter instead, but lets her daughter know the cart was really what she couldn’t leave behind.
    Mother Courage wants to profit from this war without contributing to the cause. She is very hesitant to have her sons serve in the army, losing one to the troops when she is distracted by a deal and placing the other one in a seemingly safe position in finance. Ultimately however, she loses her “safe” son to the military, her “strong” son to a crime that was surely inspired by his pillaging days in the army, and her “stupid” daughter to an act of civilian bravery during the war. This was perhaps the most blatant display of the play’s anti-war message.

  8. “Mother Courage” is a very difficult play to watch, and I got the impression as I experienced it that Brecht worked very hard to create this exact effect. Everything in this play is uncomfortable, from the way Mother Courage profits off the war to the lauding of her son’s atrocities to the horrible way she treats her daughter. It’s a play that left me on edge throughout, undoubtedly the way the playwright wanted the audience to experience his portrayal of the horrors of war.

    And uncomfortable it was; it seems that it’s not a play you’re meant to enjoy, per se. I did respect the production a huge amount. The cast was nothing short of remarkable, with Kathleen Turner’s reputation clearly well-deserved. Everyone on stage was a standout, but I do think particularly of Meg Gillentine, who played Yvette. Her portrayal really lit the stage and I think breathed life into a play that in some ways is very much about death.

    In addition to the acting, I was truly in awe of the technical excellence of the production. The sound design was stunning; it was such an immersive experience of the explosions and gunfire and collapsing buildings that I found myself jumping more than once in combat scenes due to the sound effects. Theater in the round is such a unique challenge in that for me as an audience member, it’s sometimes hard to be immersed in the action when you can see other audience members on the other side. But the sound design of the war scenes, in addition to staging that allowed for actors to be overhead when the situation called for it, created an environment that really drew me in.

    The music was a surprise, one that I enjoyed. The staging of the actors with the instruments, particularly the actor playing the saw, was novel and added to the dark comedy of the scenes they were part of. Although it wasn’t a story I would expect to contain music, the songs definitely added to the observation of grandeur that accompanies some portrayals of war.

    In spite of the wonderful performances and technical decisions, I walked away from the play feeling as though I didn’t get out of it what I had hoped to. An anti-war piece has to have a message other than “war is bad” and “family is important” to leave an impact on its audience and to justify why it is any different than any other piece of anti-war art out there. The show made me uncomfortable, but not in a way that forced me to think or reevaluate. In our class this semester, I’ve always walked away from the shows we’ve seen feeling as though I’ve gained something–or sometimes lost something–in the time that I’ve spent watching the actors on the stage and experiencing the production. That’s one of the things that I think is very special about going to live performances. But, in its storytelling, that was something I couldn’t find in Mother Courage, in spite of the excellence of those who worked on the show.

    I know I’m in the minority here, but Brechtian theater frustrates me, because I feel as though he’s always talking down to his audience. It feels as though Brecht never expects his audience to understand nuance or subtlety, so he has to physically take his characters out of the action to explain it to them and limit himself to speaking in sweeping generalizations. I have great respect for the cast and crew who took on, and performed wonderfully in, what must have been a very difficult show. But I struggle to understand what Brecht has contributed to the subgenre and to the lives of his audience members.

    • Chloe, I appreciate your criticism of the play as I also had qualms regarding the take-home message. We all know that “family is good” and “war is bad” but what is so special about this particular play? How does “Mother Courage and Her Children” hit deeper than other anti-war pieces of art, poetry, literature, film, or theater? I agree that the songs were orchestrated well, and that it is not an easy feat to have a cast that sings, acts, and plays instruments. Yet is even more difficult to find a cast that can do these three things well, and frankly, I thought the singing and acting were very unimpressive. A good play should be effortless; however, watching this particular play was frustrating because all the different elements seemed forced.

  9. “Mother Courage and Her Children” was my by far my least favorite play this term. Perhaps this was because I entered the theater slightly late and disheveled, having waited for the delayed metro to arrive after a mishap on the Red line. Perhaps it was because I had had a long day at work and was thus exhausted by the time I sat down in the theater. But even after purchasing a cup of coffee, I could not help but fall asleep for some of the more dragging scenes. And though the tempo and the dreariness of the play are used to emphasize how unnecessarily drawn out the war is, I could not get into the plot or sympathize with the characters. I found the acting unconvincing and the characters themselves relatively static and flat. Though I enjoyed the use of live music by the cast, I did not find the singing impressive, particular Kathleen Turner’s.

    This particular production of “Mother Courage and Her Children” was an ambitious one, one that required performing for audience members that could see every angle of each actor, included thirteen songs to sing and to play, and employed complicated choreography. But perhaps it was too ambitious, because although all these elements were carefully practiced and pieced together, the overall delivery was not memorable nor was it something I’d want to watch again. For a topic as dark as death and war, it would be more moving to have some sort of change or some sort of breaking in Mother Courage with the death of each of her children. However, each death is unceremonious and though it is evident that Mother Courage is deeply affected by her loss, there does not appear to be any sort of clear dividing line between her tough, practical outer shell and her motherly instincts.

    • Michelle, you comment on a similar point that I made in my post. I too, agree that “Mother Courage” was a little too ambitious. It had too many things going on at once, that it was difficult to zero on the true importance of the play. I myself, am still grappling with the major themes and takeaways from last Thursday’s performance of “Mother Courage.” While I am sure that the performance was “carefully practiced and pieced together” I am not sure how effective the delivery of it was. I have seen other plays and musicals that are able to cover the topic of war effectively (and still entertaining) like Les Miserables. However, during the majority of the performance of “Mother Courage” I was just bored to tears.

    • Michelle I completely agree with your post. My post discussed my disappointment with the play because of its central character, but you comment on everything else which I hadn’t thought of as much. I agree that getting there late may have contributed to my disapproval, but I don’t think it affected me that much. If the idea of the play was to make it feel like it dragged on much like the war as you said, then you’ll probably get a play that bores a lot of amateur theatregoers. I thought the highlight of the play was the setup of the stage, but that effect loses its luster quickly. Another aspect that made the play seem to go on and on was the fact that they would call out what scene was about to appear. By the time “Scene 11” was announced, I was trying to figure out what they could have left to sing. I agree that the singing was a nice part, but it did not get me through the whole play. Like I said in my post, maybe this has to do with my lack of understanding about such a long war. But in the end, I don’t think this excuses a play from dragging out.

  10. Before seeing “Mother Courage and all her children,” I mentioned to my mother that I was going to see the play. She gushed that “I was so lucky” and that the show is supposed to be fabulous. Minutes before the play, my roommate Katie and I were nearly jumping up and down because we were so excited to see it. Kathleen Turner is an incredible actress and star; we could not believe we had the chance to see her perform. Also the fact that “Mother Courage” is a musical nearly tripled my level of excitement. To be honest, after having such high expectations, I was a little disappointed. While I did enjoy the show, it wasn’t as fast-paced, gut wrenching, and fun, as I had hoped. War is a difficult topic to cover, particularly in a musical-fashion (maybe not so “fun”). And I do believe that considering this script was written in the 1930s, “Mother Courage” did its best to move beyond this time frame and into a more modern performance. However, something just seemed off. I couldn’t connect with the performance quite as I had expected.

    Instead, I found that I had to focus on a lot at once in order to understand and follow the play. If I looked away or zoned out for a even the slightest second, I would be confused for the next 5 minutes. It felt as if there was too much going on at once to capture it all. On another note, I would like to mention that I did enjoy the layout of the theater. I had never been to an “arena” style theater before and I have to say that it was a cool experience. “Mother Courage” was supported by a great set, with fantastic special effects such as the rain and sound effects.

    Lastly, I feel like another true star of the show was Kattrin, whose performance was outstanding for an actor who did not have any lines. I really empathized with her character and her performance. Out of all the characters, to me, she seemed as though she had the most courage. She defended and protected a town full of children and babies. She gave her life so that others could live. Her death was tragic and true act of courage.

  11. Mother Courage was an interesting play; one that I’m not sure how I feel about just yet. This ambiguity occurs every so often with me after I’ve finished something (plays, movies, books, etc.) but I really can’t make up my mind with this one. My inability to form an opinion centers around my views on Mother Courage herself.

    I couldn’t help but feel troubled by the reactions she has to the unfortunate events that happen to her children. When her eldest, most competent son leaves to join the army, she is upset. She makes several attempts to shoo off the military personnel who try to recruit him, all to no avail. She does so because she does not want him to experience the horrors of war, and rightfully so. But after a short meeting with him at his camp, she seems apathetic throughout the remainder of the play.

    She continued this pattern with the deaths of Swiss Cheese and Kattrin. She is visibly heartbroken at first, but her mourning hardly lasts for either of them. It appeared odd for someone who seems to put so much of her life into taking care of these people to be somewhat blasé about their passing. But maybe I’m mistaking callousness with a theme of the play. This is the Thirty Years War we’re talking about; one of the bloodiest and longest wars in European history. Maybe her emotions reflect the European mood during this time. With death and suffering becoming part of regular life, it could be that Mother Courage’s reactions were simply the norm back then. I couldn’t imagine how one year of this would affect me, and this character went through it all.

    So I guess my feelings about the play depend on whether I dislike Mother Courage or whether I don’t understand her. In all likelihood, I’m experiencing both.

    • Alex, I agree with your assessment of the uncertainty surrounding the character of Mother Courage. My biggest obstacle in digesting the play was my perception of her — how she reacted to situations, functioned under pressure, and what thoughts were actually in her head. At the end, I wasn’t sure how to react — in the same way that you articulated in your response. Perhaps it was because I couldn’t understand Mother Courage.

      Perhaps she is not meant to be understood. But while some may take this as a sign of strength in a play, I perceive it more as a weakness. Complexity is one thing, but I don’t think she was ever fully developed, and this exacerbated by distaste for the play as an artistic entity. The nuances of war and their affect on everyday life is one thing, but at the very least, I wish Mother Courage had felt like a plausible human being.

  12. Reflecting and organizing my thoughts on Mother Courage, I do not have a very solid conclusion about the entire show. At times it was dreary, comical, drawn out, and even superfluous. To me, it almost seemed as if when the play got to dreary a comical scene would follow it to balance out the good and bad. I guess at the end of it all, I was not too impressed by Mother Courage. The cast was talented and committed, and when the play was comical, it was truly funny and witty. On the other hand, in its attempts to be witty and snarky, the plays quick one-liners and jabs were almost too punchy, hitting too deep.

    I understand that Mother Courage is an anti-war piece, displaying, through the loss of her children and despairing situation at the end of the play, that war does not bring long-lived profits and happiness. While war may be good for Mother Courage’s business, it does not bode as well for her personal life. Losing child after child after child, Mother Courage becomes at the end Mother Faking It. She cannot let the façade of her business-only personality crumble as her family does. It was hard for me to watch her painfully hold it all in when she seemingly went through so much.

    A point that I found interesting was the lack of detail on the war. The audience understood that it was Sweden versus Poland and Protestants versus Catholics. However, the audience never really got informative updates on what was going on as the story of Mother Courage played out. To me, this demonstrated how unimportant the details of a war are and instead stressed importance on the effects, positive and negative, of war on the people who were not waging it.

    I do not think I would have liked this play much at all if Kathleen Turner was not portraying Mother Courage. While much of the piece was lost on me, the quick, dry remarks of Mother Courage kept, in my opinion, the play afloat.

    • I enjoyed your insight on the Mother Courage performance. Mother Courage was placed in a difficult position because although her business ventures seem to profit, her family had suffered, as she slowly began to see her children pass away in the war. This play was strongly against wars and this was shown by the negative long-term effects that the mother experienced.

      In addition, you made a great point about the lack of details about the war. Would the story have been better if there were more facts/details involved? I was unaware of this war between Poland and Sweden; it may not have been a large war, but it still had an impact on the families involved. I don’t think that the details of the war were unimportant, but the playwright definitely wants the audience to emphasize the results of the war.

      By the end of this performance, I would assume that most of the audience began to empathize with Mother Courage. Although, my mom has not experience the same things as this character, she has been through a life changing experience as well and is tasked with moving forward. Mother Courage will miss her children, just how my mother misses her mobility, ability to think & respond quickly and her autonomy. Mother Courage is a strong individual and in many ways she reminds me of my mother.

    • Edward I understand what you mean when you say “I do not have a very solid conclusion about the entire show” – I felt the same way. I left the theatre unmoved and could not grasp exactly what the playwright or the play was trying to express or expose. I understand that is was an anti-war piece, but like you said, the lack of detail provided about the war depleted that message. In organizing my thoughts about the show, I ultimately ignored the inclusion of the war besides the fact that it fueled Mother Courage’s “business”, and I honed on her failure as a mother – or as you described it, “Mother Faking It.” Her selfishness and short-sidedness was all that permanently resonated with me, and only provided as fodder for my distaste of the piece altogether.

  13. I am glad I had the opportunity to see the play, “Mother Courage” at Arena stage. Upon entering the theater, I immediately noticed the stage and how it appeared to be set within either a crater or a ditch and was immediately intrigued- as my recent theater-going experience was confined to plays occurring in urban and suburban environments. When the play opened and it was set in a war in Europe during the 1600s, I at first thought that it would be difficult to relate.
    However, I was able to relate somewhat to the experience of Mother Courage as a peddler. Growing up in a close-knit Jewish family, I often recall my grandparents telling stories about their past and their parents and grandparents journey’s to the United States. Similar to many Jewish immigrants, my great-great grandfather was a peddler and sold items off a cart on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side. Like Mother Courage, it often was a struggle for him to make ends meet and provide for his family.
    I was also able to find a correlation between the my personal experience in the nonprofit sector and the experience that Mother Courage had in raising her daughter Katrin, who was unable to speak. During my time in high school, I was the chair of the Quick Ramps for Kids Letter Campaign program. My main project in that capacity was to create a video documentary about the effect of the portable wheelchair ramp on a girl and her family. Similar to Mother Courage’s daughter, Katrin, the young girl in the video, Karyn was unable to verbalize her thoughts. Throughout this experience, I was able to gain a better understanding of the struggles that someone who is unable to speak goes through, and gained greater empathy. While watching Mother Courage, I was impressed with her support of the needs of her daughter, when Cook invites her to leave Katrin and her war-decimated life behind and move with him to Utrecht. Mother Courage saw how important it was that she stay with her daughter and continued to endure the hardships of war although she could have left with the cook. Although throughout the play, Mother Courage appeared to be concerned with finances and quality of life; during this scene her caring for her daughter, who she felt was unable to support herself because of her inability to speak was paramount.

  14. In the recent rendition of Mother Courage and Her Children at Arena Stage, the play is done on the Fichandler Stage, which is a theater in the round. Before I arrived at the Fichandler Stage I did not know that the play was going to be done on a theater in the round type stage, and was immediately surprised. In my (somewhat limited) experience as a theater-goer, I have not had any experience with that type of stage, where the audience surrounds the stage on all four sides. I have to admit I was a little bit worried that I would miss out on things because I wouldn’t be able to see the actors for parts of the show. I took a minute before the play began to scan the other 3 sections for empty seats, just in case I determined that one section was getting more for their money than the rest of us. My fears were not quelled when I could not see the recruiting officer and the solider at the entrance of the tunnel to my right in the first scene.

    As the show went on, I began to appreciate the space, and how it was used more. I don’t think that any play can be performed on a stage like this, but I think Mother Courage and Her Children works very well on this kind of stage. I haven’t seen Mother Courage and Her Children performed on any other stage, and I haven’t seen anything else performed on a theatre in the round, so it’s hard for me to compare this to anything else. Since you can’t always see the actors’ faces, the dialogue really has to carry itself (this is not to say that the actors were not phenomenal). I like this about the play, because I think it pushes you more to consider the message of the play rather than individual performances. I thought Kathleen Turner and the rest of the cast were great, but what I walked from Arena Stage with was a strong message from the play itself, and I think that had a lot to do with the use of the arena-style stage.

    • I was fascinated by your description of the stage. I had similar concerns about the set; this round stage, was unlike all of the other plays we have watched throughout the semester. Do you feel like you missed out because of your seating position? The fact that the audience surrounded the stage on all four sides; added a different element to the show. The environment may have seemed less personal, but it made the audience play closer attention to dialogue. It would be interesting to see other plays performed on a similar type of stage. The play Mother Courage and Her Children highlights the life of a family through war times. I would be intrigued to see this play performed on a different set, to see if the audience still has similar judgements.

  15. Katie, I agree with much of what you wrote in your post. I too, was intrigued by the theater’s decision to stage “Mother Courage” in a pit. It provided the audience with a somewhat realistic setting and metaphorically transported audience members to war-torn medieval Europe.

    Similar to your conclusion, I gained the impression that Mother Courage typified the pacifist message of the play. Here was a woman who before the outbreak of the war had a very stable life with three very distinct children. Throughout the play, as the war played out its course, her life balance was offset as she lost each of her children to various aspects of the war and often focused inordinate amounts of energy not on maintaining her family, but rather on the possible financial rewards that selling items during war provided. It was the character of Mother Courage that embodied the playwright’s anti-war message because the war dragged Mother Courage’s entire family into conflict and although she was, at the beginning of the play, a pacifist, eventually her family became involved in the war and she was left to suffer the consequences of losing an entire family and directing her life not around the needs of others but rather around the possible financial gains of war-related commerce.

  16. The themes of the play were incredibly difficult to grapple with. I appreciated Mother Courage, as a play, for exposing a somewhat microcosm of what the impacts of a war are on one family. The devastating realities of war have huge effects on the relationships and ultimately the characters of individuals.
    One of the elements of the play that I was more critical of was the stage/audience setup. The setting of the play was too removed away for me, or atleast thats what it felt like. I really liked how other plays have created an enviornment that makes you feel closer to the everything.
    One of the big takeaways for me was how incredibly resilient and fearless Mother Courage was after losing her children, she continues to move through with her life because she kind of has to. Although I was extremely disappointed with how Mother Courage responded to Swiss Cheese’s death. No one is going to feed her or her children, so she has to use the opportunities of selling her stuff during the war.
    The music and listening to the cast sing from time to time was my favorite part. It was something different from other plays that we have watched. It shows the extra preparation that the cast had to do to deliver this play. It was overall something very ebtertaining and pleasant to listen to.

  17. “Courage is a wonderful thing no doubt, but no doubt you’d be better without.”

    “What is courage? A failure of planning”

    I left the performance of Mother Courage relieved that it was finally over. While I thought the acting was solid, and the musical pieces and choreography were excellent, I guess on that particular Thursday night I was not prepared for a two and a half hour long, droning illustration of a negligent mother outliving her three children. Toward the end of the play Mother Courage is told, “Courage you are a hyena of the battlefield—you thrive on the war because money is the only thing you love.” While Mother Courage denies this accusation, and is offended by it, I ultimately agreed with it.
    Her name “Mother Courage” is ironic, in that when she described it—she described her courageous act as essentially her only option for survival. She did not perform it because she was daring and fearless, but because she wanted to spare herself and make a few shillings. Mother Courage attempts to persuade her boys against joining the military, but when they disobey her she hardly mourns, likewise with the death of her daughter Kattrin.

    Additionally, Mother Courage is disillusioned about the talents and characteristics of her children. Though she clearly was the only one who raised them, she barely knows or understands them. She favors Eilif, claiming he is the smartest of her children, and belittles both Kattrin and Swiss Cheese by repeatedly calling them dumb. The only redeeming trait of Swiss Cheese, she pronounces, is that he is honest. Contrary to Mother Courage’s beliefs—Eilif is executed for his stupid actions, Swiss Cheese is murdered for lying, and Kattrin is shot after cleverly beating a drum to wake a village and save them, and her mother, from the approaching militant forces. Even after the death of all three of her children, Mother Courage barely mourns her loss.

    Kattrin is willing to risk her life so save her mother’s, but Mother Courage would likely not do the same. She chooses Kattrin and the cart over starting an Inn with Cook—but did she choose Kattrin or the potential wealth she could gain from the cart? In the end, all she has is her cart—because in the end all she really cared about were her cart and her business.

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