BWW Reviews: Stratford Festival's MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN is an Important Play to See
MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, Directed by MARTHA HENRY, and set in the 30 years war that ravaged 17th century Europe, is as moving, upsetting, and as politically relevant as ever...which is likely exactly what playwright Bertolt Brecht intended when he initially wrote it as a response to the Second World War.
The always brilliant SEANA MCKENNA portrays the titular character, also known as "Canteen Ann", as she makes her way all over war torn Europe with her cart, initially with all three of her children in tow; determined to make a profit by selling her merchandise to soldiers (no matter which side they are fighting on). Fully aware that war is hellish, she seems to have conceded herself to the fact that this is just the way it is, and that she might as well benefit from it. While she may benefit financially (and often even that does not go so well for her), her personal losses are much more profound. There is no doubt that Mother Courage is a strong and, as her name suggests, courageous character, but she is also very flawed in her thinking-or, at the very least, not particularly maternal (as her name would also suggest).
Ms. McKenna does not try to make this character likeable. She just is who she is. Flawed, passionate, strong and even wise--despite the fact that she often ignores her own advice. It is heartbreaking to see her struggle, but at the same time, the audience is prepared for this every step of the way. With foreshadowing stories in the form of song (composed by KEITH THOMAS), as well as ensemble members introducing prominent scenes which essentially tellnus who is going to die, we as the audience are able to remove ourselves from the tragic events enough to objectively consider what is transpiring, and what has led to this. This is a technique commonly used in Epic Theatre, and it is done very effectively in this production.
Mother Courage's children, and their own respective fates are also very central to this play. As her eldest son, Eilif, E.B. SMITH portrays a smart, strong-willed, and hot-headed young man, whose decisions during the war are lauded as heroic, only to be condemned as horrific as soon as the war has (temporarily) ended. Mr. SMITH brings a likeability to this young man who truly believes that any horrible acts that he commits are completely justifiable in the time of war.
As the younger son, Swiss Cheese, ANTOINE YARED quickly makes the audience fall in love with his innocence and earnestness. Like his older brother, Swiss Cheese also falls into the trap of not understanding that social expectations (whether rightfully or wrongfully) drastically differently in times of war and immanent danger than they do in a more peaceful climate. Swiss Cheese is so determined to fulfill his duties in managing the payment of the soldiers, that he ignores the fact that trying to bring his cash box to the troops while they are retreating would prove to be nothing but disastrous.
CARMEN GRANT is excellent as Mother Courage's mute daughter, Kattrin. After spending most of the play as a compassionate, yet quiet observer and victim, she comes into her own near the end of the play, with an incredibly moving climatic scene in which she sets aside any concern for herself for the good of her fellow man. This is probably the purest form of 'Courage' in the play, and it is brought on by her own 'Maternal' instincts.
BEN CARLSON and GERAINT WYN DAVIES also turn in excellent performances as the Chaplain and the Cook, respectively. At different times throughout the play, they each become a traveling companion for Mother Courage-each allowing us a deeper glimpse into her psyche based on their conversations with her. They each also provide their own unique commentaries on the war, which further challenges the audience to explore their own feelings on the matter.
In a rare moment of levity, which also serves as the one incident where Mother Courage follows a piece of her own advice, JAMIE MAC gets many laughs (as well as some sympathy) as a furious young soldier who has been slighted by one of his superiors. This is Mr. Mac's debut at the festival, and he delivers the goods in this humourous and juicy scene.
MARTHA HENRY's direction utilizes all the unique features of the space provided at the intimate Tom Patterson Theatre. I particularly enjoyed when soldiers were marching and singing backstage. The acoustics were perfect for this, and as the ensemble literally marched around the theatre space, it gave me chills to hear their voices echoing as they marched behind my row of seats.
This timeless play is an important one to see, and this cast and creative team certainly do it justice.
MOTHER COURAGE is playing at the Tom Patterson Theatre until September 21st.
Photo Credit: Seana McKenna (top) and Mother Courage and Carmet Grant as Kattrin in Mother Courage and her Children. Photo by David Hou.