The awful power and prescience of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" is that at no time since its first performance in 1941 has it been irrelevant. Director Jessica Kubzansky falters in an attempt to shoehorn an avant-garde visual style into the piece, but she succeeds in getting sterling perfs from an excellent cast.
The awful power and prescience of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” is that at no time since its first performance in 1941 has it been irrelevant: There are always conflicts, always victims, always someone simply trying to survive. The Theater@Boston Court’s production of the play, featuring the L.A. premiere of a translation by David Hare, is steeped in this awareness of the omnipresence of war. Director Jessica Kubzansky falters in an attempt to shoehorn an avant-garde visual style into the piece — actors in military uniform dancing to discoesque music between scenes — but she succeeds in getting sterling perfs from an excellent cast.Camille Saviola is superb as Mother Courage, a hard-nosed canteen-cart owner trying to keep herself and her three children alive during the Thirty Years War. Her interpretation of the role is more tough love than calculating profiteer, and her final scenes are heartbreaking in the simplicity and power of her acting. She also has a commanding singing voice, and her rendition of “The Song of the Great Capitulation” is appropriately fierce and rueful. Portraying her children, Seamus Dever is believably tough as Eilif, and Donn Swaby is convincingly guileless as Swiss Cheese, but it’s Jessica Goldapple’s tragic Kattrin that sticks in the memory. Bereft of as much as a single line, her performance is a triumph of feeling, as in a quietly effective scene where the naive Kattrin romanticizes a whore’s story, preening and childishly glorying in the feeling of being pretty and wanted, if only for a moment. Hugo Armstrong demonstrates a gruff charm as the Cook, and he imbues his fine performance of “The Song of the Great Persons of This Earth” with a desperate anger. J. Karen Thomas and Bernard K. Addison are good as the prostitute Yvette and the Chaplain, respectively, but Hare’s translation seems to have removed some of the subtlety from their characters. Audrey Fisher’s costumes are densely layered, adding a sense of reality to the sometimes surreal production — a tree with arms and legs dangling from its branches works hard at being symbolic at center-stage. John Zalewski’s sound design uses the clever conceit of rattling coin noises to represent a range of things from commerce to death, but the recorded music for songs is played so loudly that the singers often can’t be heard over it.