TheatreLAB’s ‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ features ambitious casting decisions and immersive set design inside a powerful war-time drama
Read More: Amber Martinez, Anna Rose, Bertolt Brecht, Boomie Pedersen, Donna E. Coghill, Jahred King, Kelsey Cordrey, Keri Wormald, Mark Caudle, Marquis Hazelwood, Mother Courage and Her Children, Nazis, Savannah Hatcher, Tyler Nobles
With the production of Mother Courage and Her Children TheatreLAB features a performance of what may be the 20th Century’s greatest anti-war drama. The show fits into TheatreLAB’s 2016-2017 season, which highlights “Women at War,” showcasing women pitted in intense conflict with the world around them.
Originally written in 1939 by Bertolt Brecht as a response to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland and the rise of fascism, and set in the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th century, the play follows Mother Courage as she runs a commissary and does her best to turn a profit from either side. Mother Courage may not be a noble character, but her central goal is to make enough money to care for her children- and yet the war claims each of them in turn. Over the course of its action, Mother Courage and Her Children demonstrates that it is impossible to profit off of war without paying a terrible cost.
Director Keri Wormald has taken the reigns on this show. The ensemble cast includes Mark Caudle, Donna E. Coghill, Kelsey Cordrey, Savannah Hatcher, Marquis Hazelwood, Jahred King, Tyler Nobles, Amber Martinez, Anna Rose, and Boomie Pedersen as Mother Courage.
The play aims to be a piece of immersive theatre, with the audience is, to some degree, involved in the performance itself.
“With this production, Keri Wormald, the director, has structured the piece as if every audience member is a recruit for this army that takes place within the piece,” said Deejay Gray, Founding Artistic Director of TheatreLAB.
But it seems that Wormald aims to make the play strike closer to the heart of the audience. The immersion extends beyond a verbal conceit, though- there is a spatial and physical element as well.
“People will be moving their chairs throughout the evening, the set is the entire space, so it’s going to be very interactive in that sense,” said Gray. “You’re not just sitting still watching something in front of you, you are a part of it from the second you walk into the door, which I think is going to be really thrilling.”
Wormald has a long-standing appreciation for Bertolt Brecht, and for Mother Courage in particular, so this production is a chance for her to stretch her directorial muscles and do something amazing. “This has kind of been the show that she’s always wanted to do,” said Gray. “She wanted to create a very cool experience for audiences to see this show in a different way… in a way that you’re not going to be able to experience in a different venue.”
If you’re worried about the play being far too oppressive and bleak for comfort, Bertolt Brecht has your back- apparently, the playwright liked to include music in his plays, which means that TheatreLAB’s ensemble cast has a chance to show off their singing and dancing to help lighten what might otherwise be an incredibly depressing narrative. “They’ll be in the middle of a scene, and one of the characters will say, ‘and there’s a song that I wrote about it’ or whatever,” said Gray. “And then, somehow, there’s a musical number, which kind of reminds the audience.”
TheatreLAB’s production also demonstrates an interest in experimental casting. Channelling a Shakespearian devise, actors will be cast cross-gender, allowing the production to explore the gendered ramifications of the source material and create alternative readings of the text.
For example, Kelsey Cordrey, who works as Stage Manager and Assistant Director in this production, plays the role of The Cook, traditionally a role for a middle aged man.
“I’m very much against type, being a young twenty something woman,” said Cordrey. “It’s been one of the more challenging things I’ve ever had to do… we haven’t changed the cook into a woman, he just happens to be played by a woman. So it’s kept as very androgynous, finding the balance between femininity and masculinity and how that changes the dynamic with Mother Courage and whether it does at all has been a very interesting thing to discover.”
The alternative casting isn’t restricted to a select few characters. Instead, a number of the ensemble characters, often military personnel, are played by women, and the production has embraced that fact. “It adds a cool dynamic to see women in these powerful militaristic positions that you don’t always see in film and television,” said Cordrey. “A lot of the time it’s older men, and now we have young twenty, thirty somethings playing these powerful authority figures, and it’s interesting and very fun to watch.”
Still, the production explores feminine power in the play beyond its casting. The dynamic between Mother Courage, The Cook, and The Chaplain is the clearest example. Both The Cook and The Chaplain attempt to exert their influence over Mother Courage in their own way, but Mother Courage plays them off of each other to come out on top. “It’s definitely a different take on the typical men-using-women trope that you see a lot of times in entertainment,” said Cordrey. “I have really appreciated that angle.”
Gray also expressed a good deal of excitement about the character of Mother Courage. “This woman is in this very desperate time, she has three children, she’s trying to make life work for all of them, she sees that she can profit off of the war, and so she realizes that in desperate times come desperate measures,” he said. “She is this kind of everyman, everywoman that you see struggling in times of war.”
As this everywoman, Mother Courage has to use her wits to keep any kind of advantage over the people she deals with- from villagers, to soldiers, to sergeants. “She changes herself to speak to these people so that she can continue to profit off of the war from every single type of person,” said Gray. “She knows that if she and her family are going to survive, this is the path she has to take.”
TheatreLAB’s production of “Mother Courage and Her Children” will premiere on October 28th and will run through November 12th at The Basement at 300 East Broad Street. You can access more information on the play and find a link to buy tickets here.
With such a layered piece and ambitious presentation, “Mother Courage” looks like a uniquely promising show- so you better snap up those tickets quick.
Photos by Birgitte Photography
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