A Play on War

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Photo Source: William P. Steele
Though little more than a spruced-up remix of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children," "A Play on War" has a couple of things going for it. First, there's Jenny Connell's breezy abridged script, which runs only 90 minutes, quite an accomplishment when dealing with any of Brecht's epic pieces, let alone such a faithful retelling of "Mother Courage." Then there are the lush aesthetic frills of conceiver-director Rubén Polendo's production, in which everyone rides bikes through a landscape of stark white costumes and richly colored lights.

By now we're all familiar with the story of Mother Courage (played here with offhanded bite by Mia Katigbak), her kids, and her cart as they make their way across a war-torn country peddling wares in the face of oblivion. That Mama ends up on the receiving end of said oblivion should come as no surprise, but Polendo, through an innovative sampling of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music" score and Kate Ashton's character-specific lighting design, delivers an ending tableau of unanticipated dexterity. This Mother Courage has used divination to foresee the deaths of all three of her children and ruminates on their plight while Julie Andrew's rendition of the title song from the musical skips and garbles in the background. Such an accomplished juxtaposition of tragic destiny and unbridled optimism compensates for some of the hiccups in Polendo's staging.

As noted earlier, scenic designer Justin Nestor has put everyone on white bikes, an interesting choice that is almost too arbitrary but nonetheless effectively energetic. In the exemplary Asian-American cast, Nathan Elam and Jon Norman Schneider make strong showings as Courage's two sons, Four Eyes and Suez Cheese, while Nikki Calonge as the silent but manic daughter Birdie is endearingly genuine.

Presented by the National Asian American Theatre Company in collaboration with Theater Mitu at the Connelly Theater, 220 E. Fourth St., NYC. Feb. 16–March 6. Mon.–Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 7 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or www.theatermania.com.