Mother Courage and Her Children | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Mother Courage and Her Children


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Mother Courage and Her Children, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Director Eric Simonson doesn't seem to have noticed that Steppenwolf's usual naturalistic approach ill suits Bertolt Brecht's allegory of life during wartime. Or perhaps he's just unwilling to discomfit the audience with Brechtian alienation: he's even eliminated the signs announcing what happens in the next scene, Brecht's way of keeping the audience in the real world considering the issues rather than losing themselves in the pleasure of wondering what's going to happen next to imaginary people. Brecht considered that pleasure not merely trivial but false in the face of war, and it dishonors his intentions to turn Mother Courage into a lonely shopkeeper with competing lovers.

This production is so lacking in momentum that intermission could be mistaken for the end except for the absence of bows. David Hare's 1995 adaptation "improves on" the familiar Bentley translation by inserting the word "fuck," which makes the script sound anachronistic, not contemporary. Some actors acquit themselves reasonably well, including Nicholas Rudall as the pompous Chaplain, Robert Breuler as the Cook, and Sally Murphy as the dumb Kattrin. But Lois Smith's Mother Courage seems both too resourceful to be stuck with such a Sisyphean endeavor and too ponderous in thought and speech to have survived so long. The slow pace of her performance and Simonson's production makes us feel we're pulling the famous cart, laboring to reach the end of the play. Brecht's all-too-timely antiwar message deserves a production that communicates it.

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