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LA Theater Review

'Mother Courage and Her Children'

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Bertolt Brecht's prescient 1941 German-language play, set during Europe's Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), was intended as a satiric commentary on World War II. Its hard-hitting themes on the calamitous effects of war--the tearing apart of families, widespread death and destruction, profiteering, hidden political agendas, moral confusion, and sheer madness--now seem more pertinent than ever. Director Jessica Kubzansky's local premiere of David Hare's 1995 translation captures the dark humor, thought-provoking drama, and potent theatricality of the idiosyncratic Brechtian style. She delivers a stirring rendition of one of the 20th century's most challenging classics.

Her most inspired choice was in the casting of the titular character--part Earth Mother and part Mommie Dearest. The gifted Camille Saviola commands the stage as the ruthlessly enterprising matriarch, who pushes her cart of food and supplies behind the European battle fronts, prepared to prevail over anyone who gets in her or her children's way. Saviola's instincts are spot-on in making this Everywoman a paradoxical amalgam of foibles and strengths, humor and pathos, in her determined quest for survival. She belts out declamatory songs powerfully and infuses Hare's text with scintillating wit and irony.

The lithe and energetic Seamus Dever as her brash son Eilif, an army recruit seeking glory, likewise explores the story's moral ambiguities in a sensitive and finely nuanced portrayal. Donn Swaby excels as the younger son Swiss Cheese, who dies as a result of his honesty. Jessica Goldapple masters the difficult role of the mute sibling Kattrin; Goldapple's face eloquently expresses the living hell through which the well-meaning Mother Courage puts her children. Other splendid work comes from J. Karen Thomas as the resourceful prostitute Yvette, Hugo Armstrong as the sardonic Cook, and Bernard K. Addison as the opportunistic deposed Chaplain.

Kitty McNamee provides superlative choreography, especially in the chilling battle sequences. Also supporting Kubzansky's compelling vision are Randall Tico's haunting original music, Susan Gratch's strikingly eerie scenic design, Jeremy Pivnick's beautifully textured lighting, Audrey Fisher's appropriately timeless costumes, and John Zalewski's magnificent sound effects. In a busy year for local Brecht revivals, Kubzansky's artful interpretation demonstrates why Mother Courage remains a play for all seasons.

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