University Theatre's 'Mother Courage' shows the horrors of war

Rehearsal scene

“Mother Courage and Her Children,” a play by Bertold Brecht and one of the most influential plays of the 20th century, premieres at the UO’s Robinson Theatre on Friday, March 2.

“It’s one of those seminal plays from the 20th century, like ‘Waiting for Godot’ or ‘The Iceman Cometh,’” said the play’s director, Michael Najjar. “It’s a play of that magnitude. It’s considered Brecht’s masterpiece because it was his final full play and production in his lifetime, and it really ties together everything that makes Brecht a great playwright.”

“Mother Courage and Her Children” is set during the Thirty Years’ War, which took place in central Europe from 1618 to 1648. Mother Courage, a crafty canteen woman for the Swedish army, tries to make her living off of the same war that endangers her three children.

“I have a more sympathetic take to Mother Courage than Brecht did,” Najjar said. “Brecht writes in the play that she’s a hyena that lives off the war. I see her more as an economic migrant and refugee.”

Brecht, a German dramatist, wrote the play in 1939 after fleeing Nazi Germany with his family and traveling from country to country in search of peace.

“It’s a play about the dangers of war and how quickly we are willing to jump into war,” Najjar said. “I think that Brecht’s play is so prescient because it reminds us that yes, we may all have grievances, and they all may seem legitimate, but once we commit to a war, the devastation and horror that ensues is so tremendous that oftentimes we cannot find our way out of it.”

The production features an original score written by UO graduate composer Daniel Daly. A three-piece band consisting of a pianist, clarinetist and cellist will play live music.

The production will also include Mother Courage’s wooden wagon, from which she sells her goods. A revolving stage will allow the wagon to move.

“We have the kind of theater where you can stage the play with a massive set and a huge wagon,” Najjar said. “Music lovers might want to come for the music, theater loves might come for the theatricality of it all. I hope the Eugene community comes out and support it because it’s quite a big production that doesn’t get done very often.”

The production stars Penta Swanson, a former UO student who has worked with The Living Theatre and The Alchemical Theatre in New York. It utilizes playwright Tony Kushner’s translation of the play.

The play runs through March 17. For show times and to purchase tickets, visit the UO Ticket Office’s website. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, faculty, staff and non-UO students, and free for UO students.

By Sarah Eddy, University Communications