Review by Deirdre Donovan
Kecia Lewis resurrects Brecht’s iconic character with gutsiness and daring at
the Classic Stage Company.
tough as nails, I see; but that's what I like about you.”
Cook’s words to Mother Courage in a late scene in Bertolt Brecht’s Mother
Courage and Her Children might well apply to Kecia Lewis. Lewis
assumed the role of the titular character in Classic Stage Company’s new
production when the slated actress bowed out late in rehearsals due to artistic
differences with the director, Brian Kulick.
who was still on script in certain scenes at the performance I attended, had
been rehearsing her part for only 14 days and performing before a live audience
for the fourth time. But Lewis, with the wherewithal of Hercules completing a
Labor, succeeded in nailing the role that many consider the equivalent of King
Deandre Savon, Kecia Lewis, Mirirai Sithole. Photos
by Joan Marcus.jpg
no question that Mother Courage is on the darker side of the classical repertory.
It revolves around the indomitable canteen woman Anna Fierling, and her three
illegitimate children. Aptly dubbed Mother Courage, she makes her living off
the war by selling liquor and sundry goods to the soldiers. Mother Courage
travels with her canteen wagon for long years through war-ravaged lands, and eventually
loses everything she has in the world: her children and her business. Rather
than falling into despair, however, she resiliently continues her journey.
Kevin Mambo and Kecia Lewis
has updated Brecht’s play but kept its narrative arc intact. Instead of
setting it in 17th century Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, he
has transplanted it to the Congo in an attempt to make it more pertinent to our
political times. Other contemporary touches are Duncan Sheik’s (Spring Awakening)
original music, which infuses new rhythms into the play’s songs, and John
Willett’s down-to-earth translation of Brecht’s text. Indeed, there’s nothing
stale about this Mother Courage. You’ll recognize the warhorse but be
surprised at how fresh it sounds and plays out on the Classic Stage Company’s
worth mentioning that Brecht wrote his Mother Courage whole cloth
between September 21 to November 7 of 1939 when he was exile in Sweden.
It was a remarkable feat for this German playwright who typically would write,
and rewrite, his plays over a stretch of years. Now considered a masterpiece
of world theater, it is a modern-day morality play that points up the horrors
of war and how nobody ultimately profits from it.
to the current production, Lewis is the real ace in the cast. She has a
powerhouse voice and barks out her lines and songs with full-bodied
conviction. Lewis inhabits the old, salty peasant woman without a whiff of
sentimentality. Her Mother Courage looks the war right in the eye and calls a
spade a spade. Other actors to watch? Kevin Mambo (Fela!), as the
Cook, has the chops for his part and turns in a very strong performance. And
Mirirai Sithole, as Mother Courage’s mute daughter Kattrin, proves that good
acting is more than merely speaking lines of dialogue. Relying on mime and
unintelligible grunting, Sithole inhabits her good-hearted character with much
feeling and pathos.
creative team are all on their toes here. The aforementioned Sheik brings his
distinctive music to the play, heightening pivotal scenes and giving the old
songs a new tropical twist. Tony Straiges minimalist set evokes the
war-scarred terrain of the Congo and reimagines Mother Courage’s wagon as a
truck. Lighting designer Justin Townsend, true to Brecht’s epic theater style,
illuminates the stage in bright light. And fight director J. David Brimmer
does an impressive job at making the fighting scenes look realistic.
the acting ensemble and creatives surely deserve recognition, it is Lewis’
performance in the nominal role that is the real reason to visit this
production. Even with script in hand, Lewis credibly insinuates herself into
the gritty role of Mother Courage. She makes you see the greatness of the iconic
character who never whines over what the war has taken from her. There have
been other fine productions of Mother Courage in New York in recent
years, but Lewis’ performance is by far the gutsiest and most daring.
Kulick at the helm, this Mother Courage surely will be remembered for
its on stage—and off-stage--drama. If you miss it, you miss something
Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, Manhattan
more information, visit www.classicstage.org or phone (212)
time: 2 hours; 15 minutes with intermission.