Theater Review: Mother Courage and her Children

By Bertolt Brecht; translated by Anat Gov; directed by Udi Ben Moshe Cameri Theater, October 29.

‘MOTHER COURAGE’ play 370 (photo credit: Daniel Kaminiski)
(photo credit: Daniel Kaminiski)
‘Gotta get back to business,” mutters Mother Courage (Tikki Dayan) as she pulls the shoes off her dead daughter’s feet and tosses them into her wagon.
It’s a deliberately ghastly image, perfectly defining what the war has wrought, that ghastly becomes the norm. We follow Mother Courage through increasingly war torn Europe from 1624 – 36 as she and her canteen wagon follow the armies fighting the Thirty Year War (1618-48), changing sides from Protestant to Catholic and back when needs must.
The War makes her a living, drops people in an out of her life – like a shady chaplain (Gadi Yagil), an army cook (Rami Baruch) and camp-follower Yvette (Orli Silberschatz). And the War kills her children one by one; sweet Swiss Cheese (Udi Rothschild), brave Eilif (Yiftach Ophir) and mute Kattrin (Gloria Bess).
But the deliberately chosen 30 Year War as such isn’t important.
It’s a vehicle, not narrative. We’re meant to watch Courage who’s far less brave than she is a survivor.
Her quest is business and we’re along for the ride, nudged also by Avi Yona Bueno’s multihued, sen-surround klieg lighting.
Brecht and the play say that neither Courage nor we are willing to acknowledge that history is human beings, not fate, that we are responsible for what we do.
That’s what the play’s structure and songs push us toward. We’re not meant to identify with the play’s characters (though we do, willy-nilly), but to observe, to sit up and take notice, but here it doesn’t happen.
Like the canteen wagon, this Mother Courage kind of drags along. It doesn’t build. It has no punch, doesn’t bite into or shake us despite Dayan in the title role.
She’s assertive, a whirlwind of passionate energy, grabs the role in her fists and pummels it under her skin. We simultaneously admire and despise her.
As Yvette, Silberschatz sometimes brings with her a willful wistfulness that recalls the child she was once.
Rami Baruch’s Cook can get gleefully seedy and an aura of hypocrisy properly invests Yagil’s Chaplain – though his white robes are questionable for a protestant priest. He looks realer in his ragged pants and shirt.
There are moments of true anguish and pathos in Gloria Bess’ sometimes over-the-top Kattrin, while Eilif and Swiss Cheese are mostly well served by Ophir and Rothschild.
But overall the performance never gets there. In-your-face is what’s meant, and this Mother Courage isn’t.