The School of Drama presents “Mother Courage and Her Children,” Bertolt Brecht’s boisterous comedy filled with original song, considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
The performances will take place Thursday through Saturday, March 30-April 1 and Friday through Sunday, April 7-9 at 7:30 p.m. as well as Sunday, April 2, at 2 p.m. in the Freedman Theatre in Performance Place. Tickets, $20 for adults and $15 for students with valid ID, are available at online and by calling the box office at 336-721-1945.
Set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years War, the play follows the fate of the indomitable Mother Courage as she trails one luckless army after another across a war-torn world in her canteen wagon. Written in response to the invasion of Poland by the German armies of Adolf Hitler in 1939, “Mother Courage” is one of nine plays Brecht wrote in resistance to the rise of Fascism and Nazism. “Mother Courage and Her Children” still resonates today as the world continues to grapple with these forces and the moral implications of war.
School of Drama faculty member Carl Forsman directs this production of the play, adapted/translated by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”).
Of Brecht, Forsman says, “No Western playwright in the 20th century made a more compelling case for the possibility that the theater had a unique and potentially powerful position in the cultural dialogue.
“For me, the play is a curious ‘anti-war’ play, although of course that is how it’s known,” Forsman continued. “The play is enormously sympathetic to soldiers and features a community’s violent uprising as a heroic moment. So, it’s not blithely ‘anti-war’: It is anti-selfishness, anti-rapacious capitalism, pro-thought and pro-consideration. The play relentlessly asks, ‘Does everything have a price?’”
Brecht is known for “alienating” audiences such that they are always aware that they are watching a play.
“The visual language of the play is certainly inspired by Brecht’s belief that the theater should not try to ‘trick’ the audience into forgetting they were watching a play,” said Forsman. “So there is no attempt to evoke 17th-century Europe in the scenery, although the clothes are realistic. It asks the audience a different kind of question than a traditional play.”
Fourth-year Drama student Alyssa James plays the role of Mother Courage.
“I am so endlessly grateful for the opportunity to play this role,” said James. “It is a gargantuan undertaking, but it has been really rewarding to throw myself into the play and begin to trust that I am capable”
“This show is a two-and-a-half-hour physical and vocal workout for me, so it has been vital to find the moments in the show where I can take a breath and rest.”
“I really love playing Mother Courage because she's full of contradictions, and Brecht was very specific in the way he created them,” she continued. “In most stories, you have your protagonist and antagonist, your hero and your villain. But Courage can't be put into one of those boxes, and that's thrilling to me. It has been a challenge to embrace it, as a person who tends to like exactness, but it's taught me to search for the friction instead of shying away from it. I hope our audiences are willing to embrace the friction too, and I can't wait for them to see it.”
“Mother Courage” is interspersed with several original songs — in this production, composed by Drama faculty member Greg Walter — that provide musical interludes that further distance the audience and are typical of Brecht’s works.
“Carl loved the idea of using the hymn written by Gustav Holst, ‘On This Day, Earth Shall Ring,’” said Walter. “So, I listened to it over and over, deciding to create music that was based on a mode, was timeless, but very present. All of the songs in the show are basically variations on this tune by Holst.
“It is amazing how all the songs seem familiar but are ever so individual to the action demanded by the play,” Walter continued. “The music sounds like folk songs passed down through the generations with no known composer or lyricist. It was a joy working with the students as well as Carl, helping him hear what he was hearing in his head. He just needed a muse, and I was honored to dig in!”
The cast for “Mother Courage” includes School of Drama students Alyssa James as Mother Courage, Shreya Muju as Kattrin, Jason Sanchez as Eilif, Santiago Sepulveda as Swiss Cheese, Ben Millspaugh as The Cook, Jack Zubieta Elliott as The Chaplain and Jasmine Hurt as Yvette Poitier, among others who play soldiers and townspeople.
From the School of Design and Production, the scenic designer is Nikolas R. Serrano, costume designer is Zoe Gilreath, lighting designer is Stephen Smart, sound designer is Bella Flosi, wig and makeup designer is M Nottke, technical director is Christopher Hackett, scenic paint charge is Lauren Eckard, properties director is Alex Drake, stage manager is Stephanie Brown, production stage manager is Michael R. Diaz and production manager is John F. O’Neil.
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March 15, 2023