Masterful, magnetic, and entertaining best describe the outstanding performance seen Feb. 6 by stage and screen star Kathleen Turner in the uniquely engaging Arena Stage production of Bertolt Brecht’s masterpiece “Mother Courage and Her Children.” With lines like “No one ever started a revolution sitting down” and “War is like love, it always finds a way,” this play of heavy-hitting pronouncements can plod along like Mother Courage and her bastard children pulling the wagon of their livelihood through the battlefields of the Thirty Years War.
A combination of things enlivens this production, which runs two and one half hours. They include original music (James Sugg wrote thirteen songs for this production), actors who sing (Turner makes her official singing debut and shines), actors who play musical instruments (Rick Foucheux as Chaplain plays tuba), and a theater-in-the-round setting. Director Molly Smith’s selection of David Hare’s raunchy and colloquial translation, which punches up the black humor of a businesswoman at war, also contributes to the entertainment quotient.
Among David Leong’s lively dance/movement numbers of the production, the tango scene with Meg Gillentine as the prostitute Yvette stands out for its originality. James Sugg wrote “Each Night in May” as a folk song, but Smith wanted to show off Gillentine’s panache as a Fosse dancer and so the composer rewrote this song for a tango rhythm. While the music of “Mother Courage” has a Kurt Weil sensibility, Sugg says his inspiration for the overall music came from Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band, but that he also listened to a lot of Eastern European music and traditional folk singing. The composer was also aware that musical instruments had to be easily carried by the cast.
Other standout performers include Erin Weaver as Courage’s mute daughter, Kattrin, and Jack Willis as Cook. Weaver’s ability to communicate through gesture was passionate. As lead singer for “Solomon’s Song (You’re Better Without),” Willis’ commanding voice was a great match for Turner’s smokey sound. Willis and Foucheux (Chaplain) do a great job bringing out Turner’s sexy magnetism.
Karren L. Alenier