Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mother Courage: Productions History

The opportunity to see a production of Mother Courage and Her Children is relatively rare. Bertolt Brecht wrote the play in in 1939 as World War II was beginning. Its first production wasn’t until 1941, though its official premiere was even later, in 1949. This production in Berlin featured Helene Weigel, Brecht’s wife, as Mother Courage. It is still considered the definitive production of this play.

But as critic Brad Bradley wrote, “Only one English language version ever reached a New York theater with more than 300 seats, and that was decades ago (in 1963 for about six weeks, starring Anne Bancroft, and directed by Jerome Robbins).”

Though such esteemed theatres as the American Repertory Theatre and the Shakespeare Company in Boston, Steppenwolf in Chicago and the Jean Cocteau Repertory Company in New York have mounted productions, perhaps the most famous American version so far was one that never happened: to be directed by Orson Welles and starring Geraldine Fitzgerald in 1958.

However, these previous attempts may be eclipsed by a new production scheduled for this summer. The Public Theatre in New York announced that Meryl Streep will play Mother Courage in a new adaptation by Tony Kushner ( author of Angels in America) to be staged in Central Park. The announcement of this production, with Streep and Kushner in particular, signals the new relevance of this play to our times.

Long before that, and much closer to home, North Coast theatergoers can see Mother Courage and Her Children mounted by the director who brought Kushner’s Angels in America and Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters to the Humboldt State University stage. It opens February 23 at 8 pm in the Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus in Arcata.


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