The Caravan of Courage

MTC’s adaptation of Brecht’s anti-war masterpiece not perfect, but still a transcendent cautionary tale worth retelling

Tanja Jacobs as Mother Courage and Waneta Storms as Kattrin in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, now at MTC. Andree Lanthier

Not since Manitoba Theatre Centre’s legendary production in 1965 has Mother Courage and Her Children graced a Manitoba stage. For that show, MTC founder John Hirsch directed, Zoe Caldwell starred and people flocked from all around to Winnipeg to see it.

I’ve heard about it my entire life, mostly from people who themselves did not see it.

Set during the Thirty Years’ War, Brecht’s masterpiece follows Mother Courage and her wagon as she travels Europe pedalling her wares. Courage is forced to choose between the well-being of her children and making a profit, and she often does not make the right decision.

Mother Courage is one of Western theatre’s toughest roles for an actress, and Tanja Jacobs makes it through without a hitch.

The supporting cast delivers equally strong performaces. Particularly powerful is Waneta Storm’s portrayal of Courage’s mute daughter Kattrin; the genuine look of worry on her face is unforgettable. Storm’s performance is certainly worth the price of admission.

Peter Hinton’s adaptation of this world-renowned masterpiece is an ambitious undertaking, but perhaps a tad unnecessary. Brecht to my mind is always fresh. While I’m not opposed to adaptations on principle, I am always suspicious of them.

That said, at some level Hinton has succeeded with this adaptation, particularly with his addition of more “modern” lingo. His retention of actors announcing the action of the next scene is pure Brecht.

One neat touch is that during the intermission the loudspeaker plays a recording of the German playwright’s appearance before HUAC. Unfortunately, because of Courage‘s slightly longer running time (approximately 3 hours with a 20-minute intermission), not all stuck around to hear it.

Brecht was a lifelong communist and it was cute to see the program refer to him as having had “leftist-leanings.”

MTC has a strong history of producing Brecht. From their first performance at their current stage in 1970 (Brecht’s earlier war drama A Man’s a Man) to their second Master Playwright Festival Brechtfest in 2002.

Written in just over a month in response to Germany’s invasion of Poland, Mother Courage itself is thought by many to be the greatest anti-war play ever performed. With Canadian troops still in Afghanistan, Brecht’s cautionary tale seems as relevant today as when it was originally written in 1939.

This may not be John Hirsch’s Mother Courage, but it is clear that MTC has its heart in the right place.

Don’t wait another 45 years to see it.

Published in Volume 64, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 25, 2010)

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