The Mother is a play by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It is based on Maxim Gorky’s 1906 novel of the same name.
It was written in collaboration with Hanns Eisler, Slatan Dudow and Günter Weisenborn from 1930–31 in prose dialogue with unrhymed irregular free verse and ten initial songs in its score, with three more added later.
It premièred at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in Berlin, opening on 17 January 1932. It was directed by Emil Burri and the scenic design was by Caspar Neher. Helene Weigel played the Mother and Ernst Busch played Pavel. Years later, Brecht directed the play with the Berliner Ensemble at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin in a production that opened on the 10 January 1951. Neher also designed the sets for this production and Helene Weigel recreated the lead role, with Ernst Kahler playing Pavel and Busch as Lapkin. After Brecht's death, Manfred Wekwerth revised that production at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm with an altered cast; this production was filmed.
In the play, Brecht utilizes narrative, irony, the juxtaposition of self-proclaimed "truths" to reveal their flaws, the concretizing of complex ideas into dramatic events, an understanding and simple presentation of human behaviour, and a comedic optimism that things can be changed and that reason and common sense will overcome fear and superstition. Vlassov is Brecht's entirely positive major character, who endures a long and difficult road to liberation.
The Mother is Brecht's most elaborate use of his radically-experimental Lehrstücke, or 'learning plays,' which he describes as "a piece of anti-metaphysical, materialistic, non-Aristotelian drama." The play suggests that to become a good mother involves more than just complaining about the price of soup; rather, one must struggle against it, not only for her and her family's sake, but for the sake of all working families. The title character, the mother Pelagea Vlassova, journeys through the play’s fourteen scenes, the death of her son, and her own impending illness, fighting illiteracy while constantly filled with good humor and wily activism. The moment in October 1917 when she becomes free to carry and raise her own Red Flag on the eve of the czar's overthrow proves momentous. The play has garnered continued recognition for its forensic, witty and, some would say, humanist critique of capitalism seen through the experiences of those obliged, as Brecht saw it, to live beneath that system's crushing weight.
Brecht wrote The Mother at a time when Hitler was gaining power in Germany. During a performance the Nazis arrested the leading actor to prevent the public from seeing the play.
Publisher: Grove Press