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Theater | THEATER REVIEW

War defies time in 'Mother Courage'

November 04, 2005|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

One by one, her children are swept into war. She mourns their involvement but won't renounce the fighting, for it is her livelihood. Following the army, she scavenges what she can from the battle-ravaged land and sells it to whomever will buy.

The title character of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" is a mother in the literal sense, yes, but she also represents a force or a nation or perhaps even an entire planet that simply cannot resist the call of war. The work communicates with renewed vigor in a vivid production by the Theatre @ Boston Court.

The exiled German playwright set his tale during the Thirty Years' War of the 1600s, but with the Nazi machine advancing across Europe as he wrote it, he clearly meant his nightmarish parable to be applicable to all conflicts past, present and future.

Jessica Kubzansky's staging -- based on a fresh and urgent mid-1990s translation by David Hare -- embraces this sense of timelessness. Video projections crackle like lightning while soldiers in olive drabs shimmy down ladders, as though raining from the sky. Civilians in peasant garb stumble across the devastated landscape, symbolized by a lifeless tree hung with ghostly, dismembered limbs.

As Mother Courage, Camille Saviola is wily, indomitable and eminently practical. Though she tries to protect her children -- crafty but hotheaded Eilif (Seamus Dever), guileless Swiss Cheese (Donn Swaby) and dutiful, quietly brave Kattrin (Jessica Goldapple) -- from the fighting, she remains firm and impassive when sacrifices must be made.

The story functions like a folk tale, and Kubzansky evokes its desolate beauty in collaboration with composer Randall Tico and designers Susan Gratch (set), Jeremy Pivnick (lights), Audrey Fisher (costumes) and Shaun Fillion (video). Between-scene military maneuvers -- choreographed by Kitty McNamee -- are punctuated with salutes and executed with gung-ho grins. John Zalewski supplies a soundscape of moaning wind, scraping metal and the clink of money changing hands.

The nearly three-hour length is daunting, but when a show gives you this much to think about, the result is as energizing as it is exhausting.

*

'Mother Courage and Her Children'

Where: Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 27

Price: $30

Contact: (626) 683-6883 or www.bostoncourt.org

Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

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