MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN (Quintessence): Epic theater!

“I won’t have you folk spoiling my war for me. I’m told it kills off the weak, but they’re a write-off in peacetime too. And war gives its people a better deal.” ~ Mother Courage

Lee Cortopassi (as Patch), Leah Gabriel (as Yvette), Leigha Kato (as Kattrin), Janis Dardaris (as Mother Courage), Tom Carman (as Swiss Cheese), Carlo Campbell (as Sargent), and Ashton Carter (as Soldier) in Quintessence Theatre's MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN. Photo by Shawn May.

Lee Cortopassi (as Patch), Leah Gabriel (as Yvette), Leigha Kato (as Kattrin), Janis Dardaris (as Mother Courage), Tom Carman (as Swiss Cheese), Carlo Campbell (as Sargent), and Ashton Carter (as Soldier) in Quintessence Theatre’s MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN. Photo by Shawn May.

Quintessence Theatre brings to life a beautifully staged, truly epic production of Bertolt Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, as brilliantly directed by Alexander Burns.

Written in 1939, MOTHER COURAGE is Brecht’s didactic literary reaction to events taking place within the political climate then, and is considered one of the most regarded anti-war fables of all time, and one of the greatest plays from the 20th century. Set during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) between the years 1621 and 1636, it follows Anna Fierling, better known as Mother Courage (Janis Dardaris), a tough, hardselling, business broad, and her three children navigating through a bloodstained Europe. She’s been dubbed “Courage” for having dashed a bombardment zone in order to sell bread, but she also understands capitulation. Political and religious furor has ravaged the lands, but whichever side may be winning, war itself seems to be on the side of Mother Courage, providing profit. Yet, she ultimately loses what is most precious in her life.

Utilizing David Hare’s translation, which offers a more adaptive approach to the text, rather than strict adherence, Quintessence unrelentingly builds tension, distracts and interrupts the action during each scene, jolting the fourth wall, but never loses focus throughout this chronicle of a mother/traveling war profiteer. The play is meant to be jarring. Though some great entertainment is offered in the way of sardonic comedy, song and blatant irony, it is not just a “sit and see” kind of story. Quintessence has rekindled the piece, bringing a fresh, imaginative view to an iconic work.

Janis Dardaris (as Mother Courage), Forrest McClendon (as The Cook). Photo by Shawn May.

Janis Dardaris (as Mother Courage), Forrest McClendon (as The Cook). Photo by Shawn May.

A superbly talented ensemble, including John Basiulis, Carlo Campbell, Ashton Carter, Lee Cortopassi and Ebony Pullum energize the performance via their various character portrayals. Janis Dardaris invigorates the role of Mother Courage, spicing her speech, which might otherwise seem caustic, with just the right amount wit and cynicism to allow the real essence of the character to shine through. Daniel Miller nails Eilif, the warrior son, while Tom Carman as Swiss Cheese, the younger son, radiates a fatuous honesty. Kattrin, the dumb daughter, suffers greatly in the story, and Leigha Kato’s exquisite expressiveness shouts it out loud. Gregory Isaac graces the Chaplain with divine warmth, hubris and fallability. Leah Gabriel gives Yvette Potter, the camp prostitute, some glorious moments and a fabulous voice.  Forrest McClendon wows as the Cook, and is especially dynamic as he performs an thoroughly impressive “The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth”.  This cast keeps the energy on the march!  Composer Michael Friedman’s phenomenal music is splendidly performed by music director and pianist Michael Pacifico, with Tom Carman on guitar and mandolin.  

Theater space is adroitly employed. Concurrent action occuring during scenes makes for a marvelous mélange effect, like a theatrical split screen allowing various locations and time frames into the same overall performance space. Scene changes are announced by way of projection onto the backstage curtain, which is also used to contain props not being used, and is at times backlighted to create performing shadows, or opened by degrees to show other activity. Mother Courage’s spartan canteen cart is an amazing construction, very believable, and is put to good use throughout the tale. Lighting (Ellen Moore) lends an array of auras to every scene, and courageous choreography (Kaki Burns; fight choreographer, Sean Bradley) kicks things into high gear.  A myriad of creative classic costumes (Jane Casanave) work well with movement and lighting to further enhance an excellent show.

Quintessence has masterfully delivered MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN into the light of the 21st century…  

[The Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue] October 12-November 6, 2016; quintessencetheatre.org.

2 hours and 35 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.

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About the author

Lisa Panzer

Lisa Panzer has worked for many years in theater not only as an actor, but as a director, dramaturg, technical director, lighting designer, stage crew, and roustabout. A few of her favorite past theatrical roles include: Liz Imbrie in Philadelphia Story, Maria in Lend Me a Tenor, Mrs. Tarpey in Spreading the News, Mollie Ralston in Mousetrap, Trinculo in The Tempest, Bernice Roth in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 and Felicia Dantine in I Hate Hamlet. In addition to theatrical endeavors, Mz. Panzer has also worked as a background performer in television’s Cold Case, Invincible, The Happening, several television commercials, and has played various roles in independent films including Project 21 productions and other commercial acting venues. (See http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3355274/ for additonal information).