Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Did Critics Think This Mother of All War Plays Lived Up to the Courage of Its Convictions?

Did Critics Think This Mother of All War Plays Lived Up to the Courage of Its Convictions?

Fresh on the heels of Chicago's theatrical event of the year (Gypsy) comes New York's response in the form of Mother Courage And Her Children, which opened last night at Central Park's Delacourte Theater. I say "response" because this is shaping up to be the Big Apple's biggest "must-see" show in years, despite critical response that runs the gamut.

Clive Barnes of New York Post opines that "...[A] production this ambitious and worthy is simply not to be missed, even if you do have to camp out overnight to snare a ticket." Of Meryl Streep, Barnes heaps on the praise saying she, "[R]egisters yet another triumph as Mother Courage....[S]he 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."

In providing an enthusiastic 3 1/2 stars out of 4, USA Today's Elysa Gardner effuses, "[J]ust the chance to see an enduringly great star in an enduringly great play is worth the wait on line for tickets."

Calling Tony Kushner's adaptation of Mother Courage "uneven," the labored review by Ben Brantley of The New York Times pointedly asserts that the play "is one of those great plays that almost never play great -- at least, not in English." While Brantley says that Streep's performance in the titular role rarely coheres, he acknowledges that "Ms. Streep finds her best Brechtian self in song. 'The Song of the Great Capitulation,' which Mother Courage sings at the end of the first act, is one of the most artful and intense musical performances to be found on a New York stage, as Ms. Streep flutters, fights and wallows her way through her character’s philosophy of life. Desperation, cynicism, passion that should have died long ago but still flickers against the odds: all this is implied in every gesture, every note. For one luminous moment, you understand what this play is meant to be."

Variety's David Rooney calls Streep "[R]iveting. This is a full-bodied, swaggering characterization, emboldened by fierce intelligence, quicksilver emotional shifts, inexhaustible physicality and, most of all, sly humor....But inevitably, it's Streep who dominates every scene, her control, focus and energy never faltering in a performance made of both broad strokes and the most nuanced of insights, of wicked comic asides and flashes of pain beneath the bravado."

Contrast that with the characterization of Streep's performance as a "bit of a letdown" offered by the New York Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz, who laments, "Mother Courage is by design episodic and repetitive, so it's a challenge to make it energizing, not exhausting. This one teeters more to the latter due to a meandering adaptation and long, insistent songs, which make for an epic-length (three-hour) evening."

I'll let you know my personal opinion after I take in this free Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park performance over the upcoming weekend.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for ticket information.
Related Stories:
Public Theater's Mother Courage Opens Tonight in Central Park (August 21, 2006)
Walken Away from Public Courage (July 13, 2006)
Public Theater's 2006 Shakespeare in the Park Officially Starts (June 30, 2006)
The Public Theater at 50 (June 5, 2006)

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