The Antaeus Company's commitment to presenting a faithful production of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children began even before America went to war. "The germ of it started as a statement against [the war]," admits Anne Gee Byrd, who offers a galvanizing performance in the title role in Antaeus' mounting of the difficult classic. "We started doing staged readings with music just as we were going off to Iraq, and we wanted then to do it more than ever, but you know how these things go," she says. "But when you're doing something for the right reasons, it all falls into place, doesn't it? I mean, when you want to say something from your heart, things follow."
It was the brainstorm of Antaeus' Co-Artistic Director Jeanie Hackett to stage the production in the abandoned warehouse adjacent to the NewPlace Center, the company's home for the last three years. Piled with junk and missing an outer wall, the space needed help. It's conversion, from obtaining city permits to removing hundreds of shoring beams, was a journey worthy of Mother Courage and her Thirty Years War. "Somehow every piece fit together, because we so badly wanted to present this story," says Byrd. "Though we all came to it with our own reasons, our collective effort was in no way ego-driven." The warehouse has been transformed into an environmental rustic playground; there is audience seating on three sides and visible dressing tables near the entrances where actors dress, slap on dusty makeup, and whistle in appropriate spots when Brecht calls for a little wind.
"Luckily, Brecht invites you to be theatrical," Byrd continues, adding that director Andrew J. Robinson brought a lot to the table, as well. "We didn't know when we started what the tone should be. I played Yvette [the prostitute] years ago at the McCarter, and it's always seemed more of a polemic than a play to me." Robinson let his actors explore, according to his leading lady, without any care where creative input originated. "Good ideas can come from anywhere, and we were free to fly. No dancing around trying to make Andy think your idea was his. It's been a tremendous experience for all of us."
—Travis Michael Holder
"Mother Courage and Her Children" continues at NewPlace Theatre Center, 4900 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. Apr. 15-May 22. $20-25. (866) 811-4111.