An almost-impromptu weekend trip to Washington DC gave me the opportunity to visit the Arena Stage (for the first time!) and see their new production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (the David Hare adaptation) starring Kathleen Turner in the title role. As you may know, the play is about an opportunistic street peddler, hawking goods and services off her wagon and using her wiles to survive in an oppressive regime during wartime. But her entrepreneurial instinct tends to trump her parenting skills and every time she leaves or sends one of her children to close a deal (she has three of near-or-young adult age), it's a fatal mistake.
Director Molly Smith has done a good job of conceiving the production to work with physical economy in the round and still pull off surprises, especially the illusion of impromptu musical numbers (decently theatrical if not inspired music by James Sugg).
The dramatic structure, however, is even more schematic than it sounds, especially because the trajectory consists of variations on a theme, so tonal variation should be the order of the day…but alas, that’s what the production doesn’t have. Ms. Turner plays each leg of the journey with intelligence, but with the same general approach to intensity, inflection and rhythm. It’s the kind of pitfall you’d hope the actress’s instincts would conquer, but if not it’s absolutely the director’s responsibility to recognize it and help her to solve it. But alas, despite all the interesting effects and a supporting cast that ranges from decent to excellent (particularly Jack Willis as The Cook, Mother’s ever-potential romantic partner), there’s an overall monochrome hue to the emotional temperature.
The production certainly has its merits. But with a little attention to pitch and contrast, it could have been so much better.
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