THEATER | As “Mother Courage,” Barbra Berlovitz is a must-see

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Tony Kushner’s updated version of Bertold Brecht’s anti-war masterpiece Mother Courage and Her Children opened last week at the Lab Theater. Bricklayers Theatre and Collectif Masque’s co-production of Mother Courage provides a brilliant blend of costume, masks, music, and physical humor that should not be missed.

Brecht wrote this play in reaction to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, which triggered World War II. Brecht set his play amid another bloody time period for Germany, the Thirty Years War: a religious war that devastated the German people from 1618 to 1648. The play revolves around the exploits of Anna Fierling, nicknamed Mother Courage. Mother Courage is a war profiteer who makes her living selling supplies to armies and soldiers. The play starts out with her supplying the Protestant forces but when the Catholic forces overrun and seize the area, she quickly posts her Catholic flag and readily continues her business.

mother courage, presented at the lab theater through february 20. for tickets ($20) and information, see thelabtheater.org.

Mother Courage has three children: Kattrin, her mute daughter; Swiss Cheese, her mentally challenged son; and Eilif, her oldest son. Although she tries to shield her children from the war, she is unsuccessful. Elif enlists with the Protestant forces and he eventually becomes a psychopathic killer. Though lauded as a hero during wartime, he’s considered a dangerous repulsive after armistice. Her younger son is drafted and, although he remains a gentle person, she cannot prevent him from being killed. Her mute daughter is viciously assaulted, emotionally and physically scarred and also ultimately killed. Through it all, Mother Courage continues her bartering, always seeking to make a deal with the devil.

Brecht wouldn’t mind me giving away the play’s plot because that goes along with his concept of alienating the audience so that they view the dramatic events objectively. In that regard, my one issue with the production is with its ending. A circus-like tent drops upon characters killed in an attack, with a defeated Mother Courage also collapsing. Mother Courage in ruined is contrary to Brecht’s desire to keep her character from becoming an object of sympathy. Mother Courage represents the war machine that always keeps moving despite the devastation it causes.

Barbra Berlovitz, one of the co-founders of the now defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune, plays Mother Courage with gusto and a touch of zaniness. When she is on stage, her performance is always captivating. Berlovitz’s cabaret numbers are a standout. Taylor Bibat plays the mute daughter Kattrin. Bibat, despite being mute and wearing a mask, provides a heart-wrenching performance as the tragic Kattrin. The remaining 30 roles are played by a strong ensemble of six actors. Notable performances among this ensemble include Kyle Cadotte who does an over-the-top comic turn as the flamboyant prostitute Yvette and Matt Trucano who delivers a multi-leveled performance as the Chaplain.

The absurdist nature of the war is underscored by the set, which reminds one of a circus tent, with Mother Courage’s war wagon always staying center stage. Sonya Berlovitz (Barbra’s sister) has designed interesting and varied costumes, further contributing to the production’s carnival type atmosphere.

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