Monday, August 28, 2006

Mother Courage And Her Children (The SOB Review) – Delacorte Theater, New York, NY

Mother Courage And Her Children (The SOB Review) – Delacorte Theater, New York, NY

*** (out of ****)

One thing is certain in the stunning, if sometimes uneven, Tony Kushner adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage And Her Children. It provides so many surprises on so many creative levels that it’s hard to believe that this is ostensibly a free production. Instead of the bitter drama I was expecting, Kushner serves up an astoundingly humorous and disarmingly musical depiction of how and why ordinary people support war.

Thanks in part to the direction of George C. Wolfe, as well as Kushner’s reworking of this modern anti-war classic -- based on the Thirty Years War of the 1600s -- Mother Courage And Her Children resonates with ample allegories to America’s own ongoing, seemingly endless military conflicts in an altogether human, profoundly personal fashion.

Most astonishing to me was the level to which Kushner and musical collaborator Jeanine Tesori have turned this into a well-orchestrated musical -- with memorable tunes I found humming to myself after departing Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. Additionally, Paul Gallo’s elaborate lighting design and Riccardo Hernández’s rugged set design help to practically pull the audience into the action.

Not surprising was how easily Meryl Streep can captivate, thus making the three-hour running time breeze by. Indeed, whenever this icon of American acting brilliance is on the stage, she's firmly in command. Given the complexity of her title character, who makes unrepentantly ill-fated choices for her family -- particularly as the hard-nosed business woman making a profit from the death and destruction all around her -- there are few actresses who could pull off the phenomenal feat Streep accomplishes. And did I mention she can sing?

In a wonderful supporting turn, Kevin Kline provides Courage with affection and an urgent sense of hope when the tide has turned against her. Standout performances were also delivered by Jenifer Lewis as Yvette -- an earthy, bawdy Belgian -- and Frederick Weller as Courage’s all-too brave soldiering son Eilif. Also deserving of special mention is Alexandria Wailes who expertly portrayed Courage's mute daughter Kattrin with heartbreaking beauty.

As mentioned above, Mother Courage is an uneven production. At its best, the show is breathtakingly excellent. But given the sheer enormity of the production, there are long pauses where the show is disjointedly incoherent, and its often heavy-handed demagoguery sometimes backfires.

However, on the whole, if you want to catch a performance that will be the talk of New York theatre for years to come, make every effort to see Meryl Streep in her own courageous journey.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Did Critics Think This Mother of All War Plays Lived Up to the Courage of Its Convictions? (August 22, 2006)
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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