Arts & Culture

Preview: University Theatre’s timeless anti-war epic “Mother Courage and Her Children” opens Friday

Written by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht in 1939, “Mother Courage and Her Children” chronicles 12 years in the life of merchant Mother Courage as she attempts to make enough money for her and her four children to survive the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century. Brecht tends to craft characters that elicit little sympathy from the audience — Mother Courage is portrayed as an anti-heroine of sorts as she profits off of a devastating war.

“‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century,” director Michael Najjar said. “It’s actually considered one of the greatest plays ever written.”

One of the reasons this play is so critically acclaimed is Brecht’s penchant for the alienation effect. Non-sympathetic characters alienate the audience, forcing them to think about and grapple with the overarching issues of war rather than the characters’ emotions. The minimal set design further highlights this concept — it consists of a wagon, a singular door, a table and chairs.

“What Brecht does with language and entertainment is so interesting, because he doesn’t want the audience to relate,” UO freshman and ”Mother Courage” cast member Jessica Jaszewski said. “He wants you to know that you’re watching a show.”

But Najjar argues that there is one aspect of the play in which Brecht’s intentions don’t necessarily shine through: Mother Courage’s supposed unrelatability. “We have to ask ourselves, in the Thirty Years’ War, what were the options for women?” he said. “Even now, it’s very difficult for women in the workplace. Imagine what it was like in the 1600s … I think of her as an economic migrant above anything.”

The titular Mother Courage is played by UO alum Penta Swanson, who has worked with major New York theatre companies The Living Theatre and The Alchemical Theatre. Swanson is also a singer/songwriter, which is helpful considering the play is a pseudo-musical.

“Mother Courage” features an original score by UO’s School of Music and Dance PhD student Daniel Daly. Because the script comes with lyrics but no music, Daly had an abundance of creative freedom. According to Najjar, Daly was constantly inspired, merging Brecht’s almost 80-year-old lyrics with contemporary music which will be played live by students of the School of Music and Dance.

“Mother Courage and Her Children” will run on March 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m. and on March 11 at 2 p.m. at the Robinson Theater in the Miller Theatre Complex (1231 University St.). Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, youths and non-UO students, and free for UO students with ID.

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Mia Vicino

Mia Vicino