The Playgoer: Mother Courage PREview

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mother Courage PREview

sneak peak at Streep:
"Mother Courage" photos by Michal Daniel


As I mentioned yesterday, I am reluctant to post a full "review" of Mother Courage in the park, since it is very, very much in previews, and I saw only the second public performance last night. So, in deference, I will wait and see what I can learn about how the show evolves by opening. (Scheduled for August 21.) Also I don't want to contribute to any of the inevitable rumors and scuttlebut that circulate about a high-profile show with a major star in previews.

So, just some broad points:

It's not often you get to see a major company in the US produce this modern classic on a large scale. So if you count yourself a Brechtian, or just serious about "Modern Drama" in general, go.

Mother Courage is one of the most important, influential, and just greatest plays of the 20th Century (perhaps the greatest as Public's Oskar Eustis declares in his program note). But it's also mighty unwieldy. Mixing tragedy, comedy, debate, battles, and even song, it throws a lot of balls up in the air. To juggle them all well requires an incredibly lucid directorial hand that can allow Brecht's fable-like storytelling to come through clearly....I think the question critics will be asking in a couple of weeks will not be "How good is Meryl Streep" but how well George Wolfe has succeeded in balancing all these elements.

About Streep: there's much of interest in her performance. She makes it her own. And the production helps her carve out a very different identity for it from the ragged image of Helene Weigel, for instance. She's definitely tough, and not glamorous. People will debate how right she is for the role, but no one will call it a bad performance.

Jeanine Tesori's music is one of the most notable but also problematic elements. Effective pastiche of Kurt Weil-esque "Brechtian" song, along with some jazz, blues, even Sondheim. But there's definitely technical adjustments needed in sound balance (always a Delacorte problem), and also how the songs and off-stage band really fit into the show. I have a feeling the songs will be one element they continue to develop during previews.

Kushner's translation is very viable, lively, and communicates the play well. But there are definitely stretches when it's Tony who's taking over from Bertolt. (I need to check the original again, but I feel safe saying his stamp is on the one-liners and in beefing up romantic tension between Courage, Cook, and Priest.)

As usual at the Delacorte, the supporting cast is mixed. But Wolfe does not direct it as an ensemble show. Most of the play consists of two-three character dialogues. When the ensemble does come out at the end it's thrilling. So, oddly, this Mother Courage comes off as a relatively "small" show--possibly a letdown to the audience.

I assume the running time (3.5 hours last night) will come down over previews. But I can still say I spent more time waiting in line than at the show. And that difference will only widen as the show trims and the lines balloon.

So, sorry to be a tease folks, but let's wait and see. I'll feel more comfortable making more specific critiques once the thing has opened.

2 comments:

The Playgoer said...

Due to a technical snafu, this comment by John Branch got lost, so here it is:

"I saw the show on the night of Thursday, Aug. 10, and only now discovered Playgoer's limited notes. I'll limit myself even further, mainly because time is short at work. I suspect that Tony Kushner has in some sense not just translated but also elaborated Brecht's text, in dialogue as well as in lyrics, and that this must account for at least a few extra minutes in the running time. Not to say there's anything bloated about it, but the show could probably be leaner with no loss. Incidentally, one night after Playgoer attended, it still clocked three and a half hours."

Diana said...

They say the Tirty Years War lasted thirty years, but it seemed a lot longer last night. The acting was wonderful, the problem was the play. For three tedious hours we were hit over the head with the news that war is horrible. And - gasp - people die. Brecht also explained that wars are fought so that greedy capitalists can make a profit. Yawn.

There were moments of character development that alleviated the tedium. And Tony Kusher's highly slanted "translation" got in a few good digs at Bush's adventure in Iraq. But, overall, the five hour wait in line for tickets was vastly more entertaining than the play.