Friday, July 25, 2008

Play of the Week: Mother Courage and Her Children

From one of the most influential dramatists of the 20th Century comes one of the most important plays. From Bertolt Brecht and his epic theater comes a story on the most epic scale of the most epic of all subjects: war. Written in response to Adolf Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939, Mother Courage and Her Children is a play that shares with us once again the uselessness of war.

The play is based on the folk-tale of Mother Courage and her wagon of goods that she sells to soldiers. Her entire livelihood is made from war commerce. He entire life and happiness too is consumed by war and she looses everything, including her children, to the violence.

This play is viewed as the pinnacle of 20th Century drama in Europe, but is seldom performed - and when it is with much less reverence - in the United States. How in the world can that be? The answer is simple. While the horrors of war had a huge effect on the Americans, the average citizen was able to choose what he or she saw. We were thousands of miles away and only had to face the harsh reality through newspaper, movie reels, or other second-hand reports. Europeans were living it. There was no escape from the ambitions of Hitler's armies and no one was safe. And while war was destroying Europe, it was also building the economic foundation that would turn the United States into an international superpower.

It makes sense then that the greatest play of Europe's 20th Century would be a fable cautioning us against going to war. It makes sense too that the American theatre continues to be dominated by Musical Comedies - entertainments that usually end in a happy ending.

I think it is worth taking a look at this classic through the European lens, the American lens, and the lens that would include the current pockets of unrest in our world.

Happy Birthday: Jason Robards (1922-2000)

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