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Career > > 2006 > Mother Courage and Her Children

Mother Courage and Her Children

August 08, 2006 - September 03, 2006 | The Delacorte Theater
Directed by: George C. Woolfe | Literature: Bertholt Brecht | Costume Design: Marina Draghinci | Production Design: Riccardo Hernández | Music: Jeanine Tesori
A Shakespeare in the Park production of Brecht's seminal work, set in Europe during the Thirty Years' War. We follow Mother Courage (Meryl Streep), a canteen woman, over a period of 12 years as one by one her children - the blind Kattrin (Alexandria Wailes), Eilif (Frederick Weller) and Swiss Cheese (Geoffrey Arend) are taken away by a vicious war. As Mother Courage seeks to profit from the war that is killing her children, she questions the roles of honesty, virtue and family in the face of a bitter struggle for survival.
Cast: Meryl Streep (Mother Courage), Kevin Kline (The Cook), Alexandria Wailes (Kattrin), Frederick Weller (Eilif), Geoffrey Arend (Swiss Cheese), Austin Pendleton (Chaplain), George Kmeck (Sergeant), Jenifer Lewis (Yvette), Raul Aranas (The Colonel, Older Soldier, Injured Farmer), Max Baker (Quartermaster, Soldier with Fur Coat), Ato Essandoh (Young Soldier, Lieutenant), Colin Fitzpatrick (Old Woman, Mother), Glenn Fleshler (Army Recruiter, Soldier), Michael Izquierdo (General's Servant, Soldier with the Eyepatch, Ensemble, Soldiers), Eugene Jones (Yvette's Manservant, Ensemble, Soldiers), Paco Lozano (Clerk, Soldier with Guitar, Ensemble, Soldiers), Michael Markham (Singing Soldier, Ensemble, Soldiers), Larry Marshall (General, Farmer), Jack Noseworthy (Young Man with Mattress, First Soldier), Sean Phillips (Looting Soldier, Ensemble, Soldiers), Silvestre Rasuk (Young Man with Violin, Farmer's Son), Brittany Underwood (Daughter), Jade Wu (Injured Farmer's Wife, Farmer's Wife), Waleed F. Zuaiter (Sergeant, Regimental Secretary)
The Baltimore Sun, August 14, 2006
Meryl is onstage for most of the evening, doing impossible things, having memorized millions of words and phrases and moves and takes and leers and frowns and groans and tears. This is bravura acting at its best! We are privileged to see the re-creation of this Brecht masterpiece. People may have left during the first night but on the second night, I noted only one pair of deserted seats at the intermission. (Outside, eager New Yorkers were jumping up and down, begging for “tickets … just one; have you got one?”) This incredible presentation of the Bertolt Brecht drama by the Public Theater called on many giant talents. Tony Kushner did the translation and it’s crisp, profane and profound. The director, the estimable George C. Wolfe, has made a miracle; I can’t imagine how he wheeled an enormous cast of what looks like hundreds of soldiers, camp followers and derelicts around Riccardo Hernandez’s rusting, bashed-up set and kept the pace so fast and furious.
USA Today, August 22, 2006
It’s a given that there’s nothing Meryl Streep can’t do in front of a camera or a live audience. But every so often, a part comes along that truly accommodates, and challenges, her great and varied gifts: the unaffected intelligence and lack of vanity, the razor-sharp timing and playful wit, the profound empathy for all manner of human experience. Such a plum is the title role of Mother Courage and Her Children, Bertolt Brecht’s timeless study of the brutality and futility of war through the journey of one tragic, remarkable woman. Streep’s boldly unsentimental portrait reconciles all of Courage’s complex and contradictory traits: her robust cunning and her paralyzing indecision, her earthy longing and her cynical detachment, her indomitability and her defeatism. Delivering The Song of the Great Capitulation— one of a dozen tunes newly scored by Jeanine Tesori – she evolves from a wry chanteuse to a thrilling, terrifying animal, clinging desperately to the scrap heap that life has left her.
New York Daily News, August 22, 2006
Streep’s performance as the iconic “battlefield hyena” (as Mother Courage is called) is gutsy, but a bit of a letdown. Brecht’s lack of subtlety runs counter to her strengths. Instead of the deeply nuanced portraits Streep is famous for, and that we’ve come to empathize with, there is lots of long-winded talk and surface tics. Streep speaks in a gruff voice, like she’s swallowed grit. Courage constantly swipes her hand under her nose – a strange nervous habit, as if she’s inhaled too much misery. And she punctuates her sentences with a machine-gun burst of laughter, seemingly taking that “hyena” description to heart.
The Washington Post, August 23, 2006
Like “Mother Courage,” the Mike Nichols-staged “Sea Gull” was an erratic exercise in which the big-name actors never seemed to be in the same century, let alone on the same page. In both productions, though, Streep has served as industrial-strength acting glue, holding things together by sheer force of personality and will. It also must be noted that Streep is not ideally cast as Mother Courage. As a wary profiteer, halfway between paragon and parasite, she drags a wagon – as well as her children – across the battlefields of Poland, selling this and that to the Swedish soldiers. In a cap tilted rakishly to one side, Streep ably embodies Courage’s steely nature, her talent for surviving at any cost. But the character’s softer contours aren’t clearly defined here, so the contradictions at the heart of the drama do not register. Courage’s sacrifices make little impression in Streep’s snappish portrayal, as tough and sere as the dry little cough of a laugh she effects.
The New Yorker, September 04, 2006
It’s difficult to see Meryl Streep the actress without being dazzled by Meryl Streep the legend. Streep herself plays on this in her biography for the current staging of Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 masterpiece “Mother Courage and Her Children” (a Public Theatre production, at the Delacorte): “Film: over 30 films. TV: three films. Awards: many, most deserved.” And one can certainly be thrown off by her familiar mannerisms—staring into space, jiggling her ear with an index finger, fanning her hands to dismiss an unpleasant thought or person—but what immediately grabs the audience every time is her startling efficiency of manner. For Streep, acting seems to be less about stardust than about architecture. Each character is built precisely, according to its creator’s specifications. For her performance in Tony Kushner’s brilliant adaptation of “Mother Courage,” Streep constructs a house that is gray and lopsided, a thespian’s version of van Gogh’s sad bedroom. Her grandeur is merely a façade, she seems to be telling us, and she is as committed to the job at hand as any other conscientious working actress.
The New York Oberserver, September 11, 2006
Ms. Streep, at least, is wonderfully wayward! She appears to be kicking the entire production into heroic life, though the now-mythic Mother Courage alone cannot carry Brecht’s demanding saga of war on her broken back as if dragging her cart behind her. All eyes are inevitably on Ms. Streep, whose flawed, fantastic performance is inspired and unpredictable at its core. Perhaps three or four actresses in the world possess her magnetic, electric pull onstage. (Vanessa Redgrave at her greatest is one.) There are those who believe Ms. Streep can be too perfect and too transparently technical. If so, a rough, spontaneous daring is the springboard to her staggering performance, as if we were witnessing Ms. Streep do battle with the near-impossible role itself.

☆   Drama Desk Award – Outstanding Actress in a Play
☆   Drama League Award – Distinguished Performance

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