War, Guns and Money: 'Mother Courage'

June 10, 2009


AN ANTIWAR PLAY about profiteering, staged at a playhouse that sits practically in the Pentagon’s shadow, seems like a bold prospect.

But that was kind of the idea, according to Scena Theatre’s artistic director, Robert McNamara, who talked about the company’s production of Bertolt Brecht‘s “Mother Courage and Her Children.” “We’re in Washington, D.C. We like to think we’re the good guys,” he said. “Maybe we are, but munitions are sold around the world.”

Set during the Thirty Years’ War, the play centers on “Mother Courage” (Nancy Robinette), a woman who, with her three children, pulls a cart full of merchandise through war-torn Europe. Even as the war separates and eventually destroys her family, she lives by one principle: Conflict is good for business.

Written in 1939 in reaction to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Brecht’s play illustrates the way war can force ordinary people into desperate and even inhuman behavior.

The company might have missed its original target date — during the height of the Iraq war, according to McNamara — but it’s hard to deny the story’s relevance. Modern costumes, props and weapons add to the production’s timelessness.

McNamara assembled an international team of artists, including guest director Gabriele Jakobi from Berlin, to lend their experience of living in areas ravaged by war. “They’ve had experience of the world,” he said. “We’re bringing that feeling back in.”

“Mother Courage” is the internationally focused Scena’s third Brecht play. “We’ve got this love affair and relationship with German theater,” McNamara said.

» Clark Street Playhouse, 601 Clark St., Arlington; through July 5, $25- $35; 703-683-2824.

Written by Express contributor Erin Trompeter
Photo courtesy Scena Theatre

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express · June 10, 2009