Stratford Festival’s “Mother Courage and Her Children”

On August 1st I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of my best friends to see Mother Courage and Her Children. I had learned that Brecht was almost an acquired taste and can be seen as odd, however I found this play to be exceptionally entertaining and very easy to follow, although Brecht’s sense of alienation effect (or Verfremdungseffekt) was certainly still present.

The way that Brecht chose to tell this story was very interesting. The play is not gendered as a musical, and yet songs punctuate the play. They are rather folk-like songs that emphasize the war time nature of the play. But they are mixed in with what turns out to be dark and depressing material. This adds to the alienation effect that Brecht is so famous for. Something terrible can happen in one scene, and in the next there’s singing. It’s odd, and makes you think more about what you’re watching and almost shocks you into the fact that you are indeed watching a play.

Another major factor in that Verfremdungseffekt is the way that the dates and scene titles are introduced. It’s very disruptive, as they come out almost every scene, but what I found was the most interesting was that they would often tell you what would ultimately happen in the scene. This creates a sense of expectation and anticipation while you watch. What’s interesting is that they give you just enough information so that it creates this feeling, but not enough that you get a feeling of dramatic irony. I knew what was going to happen, just not how. It was fascinating.

I feel like hearing about this play before seeing it set me up with a lot of expectations, most of which were happily dispelled upon actually seeing it. For example, I heard that this was a great tragedy, and while it certainly wasn’t all that perky, I didn’t feel as moved or saddened by it as I was by other plays I have seen. While I certainly wasn’t all smiles, I didn’t cry either (although I expected I was going to). Another example is that I didn’t find that I disliked Mother Courage. I found that I was able to understand her in a way. She thought she was doing what was best for her children. While she attempted to prevent them from going to war, her main problem was that she was absent when she could have prevented them from dying. This was hard to watch, and yet she was doing what she thought best for her and her children. Had she known what was about to happen, as we did, I feel like she would have been there to protect them.

The play is certainly a critique of capitalist society, especially in the extreme situation of war. However I’m not sure how mad that makes Mother Courage. Of course, there is one moment where she does appear to be mad in the traditional sense (no spoilers!), I don’t think that her desire for money makes her mad. She seemed to me to be resourceful and hardworking, a very good example of a single mother with three grown children who live with her. However, I do see how it could be seen that her bartering for lives (again, I won’t spoil!) could be seen as crazy. This play definitely does not give a clear cut answer to the madness question, just as there is not a clear cut resolution to the play.

The acting in this play was superb. Seana McKenna was fantastic as the titular character. She made me feel bad for her, question her choices, and love watching her fall in love all at once. For me, this is just another fabulous character to add to her amazing portfolio. Carmen Grant at Kattrin was actually the most heart wrenching character of the play; she was the one who truly pulled on our heartstrings rather than her mother. E.B. Smith and Antoine Yared played the other two children, Eilif and Swiss Cheese respectively, and they were also wonderful. It was a wonderful ensemble also featuring Ben Carlson and Geraint Wynn Davies. I can’t say enough good things about this play. It was such an interesting experience and so well acted it made it an absolute pleasure to behold.

On an interesting note, Mother Courage and Her Children takes place in Sweden in the early 1620’s. This is just before the reign of Christina, the main character of Christina the Girl King. So if you want to have a really interesting day of theatre, it would be awesome to go and see Mother Courage at 2 and Christina at 8 (or even one after the other on separate days). It’s so interesting to see the links between plays, not only thematically, but as in this case, time, place, and issues.

If you’d like to buy tickets, here’s the link! : http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24464&prodid=52420

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