The Playgoer: Mother Courage reviews

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mother Courage reviews

The notices are in...and pretty much reflect the show I saw two weeks ago.

I'll try to follow up this week with a fuller review, but meanwhile, here are some links and quotables:

Brantley, NYT (predictably kind to the star and director, but can't give it a yes):

"Do these elements cohere into a fully integrated and affecting portrait? No. The performance becomes a seamless, astonishing whole only when Ms. Streep sings the Brechtian songs that have been newly (and effectively) scored by Jeanine Tesori....As for the rest of the production, well, you can see what the brilliant Mr. Wolfe is going for and speculate on what he might have achieved with more time."
Grode, NY Sun (telling it like it is):

"'Mother Courage and Her Children,' currently attracting daily hordes of ticket-seeking fans to Central Park, is indisputably an event. It is also a ramshackle, stomping gloss on Bertolt Brecht's 1949 anti-war masterwork, albeit one sprinkled with the occasional flash of stage poetry. It is a brainstorming session trying to pass itself off as a thoughtful production. It is, put simply, a damn mess and a damn shame...

"Rather than focus on these would-be coups de theatre, Mr. Wolfe's prodigious creative energies might have been better spent suggesting, as diplomatically as possible, that the leads spend a little extra time on memorization....Seeing this lack of preparedness with just one actor is a shock. When it happens with all three leading actors, all of whom have extensive classical experience, something is seriously wrong. Was Mr. Kushner thrusting new pages into their hands minutes before curtain? Was there not enough rehearsal time? (Mr. Kline was a late replacement.) Or did Mr. Wolfe just not have it in him to ask his glittery cast to learn their lines?"

So far, there's one thumbs-up, though, from Frank Scheck in the Post (just happy to be there?):

"Streep, fresh from her "Devil Wears Prada" turn, registers yet another triumph as Mother Courage. She isn't a natural fit for the hard-edged earthiness of the part: She has too much innate elegance to be fully convincing. Still, she gives a vibrant, powerful and highly entertaining performance that's compelling from start to finish -and even gets a chance to sing onstage again, for the first time in years.

As the cynical Cook, Kline delivers a relaxed natural turn that's highly appealing. His chemistry with his co-star, previously displayed in "Sophie's Choice" and the park production of "The Seagull" a few years back, is palpable. Among the standouts in the huge supporting cast are Austin Pendleton, wonderfully funny as the Chaplain (a physical bit involving his chopping wood becomes positively vaudevillian); Frederic Weller, impressively charismatic as the oldest son; and the strong-voiced Jennifer Lewis, who brings down the house with her solo number, "The Song of Fraternization."

Director Wolfe has delivered a powerful, fast-paced staging, which is of no small importance because of the play's three-hour running time (it ran even longer during its early preview days)."

Look out for more in the coming days. I'm especially looking forward to Feingold, McCarter, and Teachout. (Hopefully, Brustein in New Republic, too. Where is he?) So far, the trend is negative, but, as Scheck displays, people may be seeing very differerent shows.

Addendum: This just in from former Voice man Charles McNulty, filing a dispatch for his new LA Times readers. He echoes the already forming consensus, but in a different way, putting the problems in the context of the Public's growing commercialism:

Well, it's not the "Mother Courage" that our war-crazed moment calls for. But it just may be the one that our hasty, semi-committed, event-driven theater deserves.That may seem like an ungrateful thing to say considering the experience and good intentions that have gone into the offering.... [I]t would seem that the best and the brightest have been summoned.

But that is precisely the problem. These exceptional talents are expected to come together and smoothly operate in a theatrical idiom that, even modified for a sitcom sensibility, is at a remove from both the dogged realism and musical frivolity of our stages. Is it any wonder that the result is such a mishmash?


Anonymous said...

It seems a little early to call it a consensus. Google and you'll see really positive reviews from John Simon (of all people), USA Today, Variety, the Philadelphia Inquirer....And Adam Feldman gives it five stars in Time Out NY.

Anonymous said...

I posted a review on my site as well, I enjoyed the show, for the most part.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it ironic that the show's success is being framed in terms of the show as a cohesive whole? I mean, this is Brecht we are talking about - his whole point was to create a style that doesn't cohere completely, that has jagged shards of thought and action, that works against the idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk. Honestly, this production was too coherent for my tastes and, I would wager (since there's no really way to lose my money) that Brecht might agree with me.

Single Lane Media said...

You ask where Robert Brustein is. Putting up his own new play on Martha's Vineyard and in Washington, apparently. See the entry in the E-script Gofer, which I edit, here: