Kathleen Turner inMother Courage and her Children
By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by David Hare
Directed by Molly Smith
Composition and Music Supervision by James Sugg
Movement by David Leong
Epic Classic Drama
Kathleen Turner returns to Arena Stage after her sold-out run of Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins to star in the mother of all roles. Tough-as-nails matriarch Mother Courage profits off the very war that steals her children from her one by one. But will the cost of war be higher than she's prepared to pay? Artistic Director Molly Smith helms this unique in-the-round staging of Brecht's powerhouse anti-war play fusing politics, satire and music into an epic theatrical experience.
|Kathleen Turner||Nicholas Rodriguez|
Photo by Tony Powell.
In Mother Courage, Brecht wrote one of the greatest roles a woman can play. Anna Fierling – known as Mother Courage – is a single mother trying to keep her family alive and her business afloat during the Thirty Years War. She is strong. She is determined. And she is resilient. Who better to take on this epic role than Kathleen Turner – a brilliant theater artist who brings so much verve and truth to the characters she creates? I cannot wait to direct her in the most important anti-war play of all time.
The questions this play asks are fascinating. Can you profit from war and retain your humanity? How far will you go for self-preservation? Is a heroic act in wartime a criminal act during peacetime?
It is a powerful, life-changing play, full of intense emotion and comedy. And, of course, Brecht would not be Brecht without music and song. I’m very excited to incorporate a hard-driving, wild, gypsy-punk style of music that will really drive this story.
— Molly Smith
Mother Courage and Her Children is generously sponsored by Hank & Charlotte Schlosberg and Margot Kelly.
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Kathleen Turner is “an actress of epic force.”
– Washington Post
“Flawless … Arena Stage has given DC a very special gift.”
– DC Metro Theater Arts
“Fabulous … Mother Courage rages with humor, pathos, and song.”
– MD Theatre Guide
“Magnificently directed. Turner is Fantastic.”
– Woman Around Town
“. [A] rollicking new production”– Washingtonian
Interview with Molly SmithDirector of Mother Courage and Her Children
Why is it important not only for Arena Stage to produce this piece, but for you to direct it?
MOLLY SMITH: Bertolt Brecht is one of my favorite playwrights of all time. And to stage Mother Courage and Her Children with Kathleen Turner and this host of artists, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To people who believe that they’ve seen Mother Courage before, they should forget everything that they’ve ever known about this show. This is going to be something that will be absolutely vital and thrilling and exhilarating and terrifying. It’s true entertainment. Many people don’t think of Brecht as entertaining, and yet when Brecht is done the way (hopefully) we’re going to do Brecht, it will be deeply entertaining.
So why Mother Courage now? I think we’re in a particularly sardonic time; an ironic time. A time when we are looking at our systems of government with a jaundiced eye. A time when we’re looking at the world and raising our shoulders, as if we say “What does it mean? So what? What can I do?” And I think that Brecht poses those questions in the play. It’s the perfect time to do Mother Courage.
How are you putting a fresh spin on what many consider to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th Century?
MOLLY SMITH: We have some of the most exciting artists working on this project. James Sugg is writing the music for it. James is with Pig Iron, which is a wonderful experimental company in Philadelphia. What I love about his work is that there’s a real exuberance about it. He’s engaged in music like Gogol Bordello which is wild gypsy music that just takes us away. We’re going to be using the accordion; we’ll be using the tuba. Over half of the actors play musical instruments so there will be a sense that everybody is carrying their ‘houses on their backs.’ Which is what you often see in the military—Soldiers are carrying everything with them. And one of the most important and precious belongings are people’s musical instruments.
What’s also fantastic about the show is that David Leong is creating 10-12 movement pieces with the company of actors. Many people saw Oklahoma! a few years ago and one of the audience’s favorite moments was the beginning of Act 2, which was a 15 minute fight scene that was staged with 22 people on stage. It just kept going and going and going until it hit an exhilarating place. He has a lot of humor in his work. His work is dangerous. It’s playful; it’s dark. And I think all those emotions will be included in the movement pieces that he’ll be creating for us on stage.
I’m really excited because Joe Salasovich will have his first costume design here at Arena. Joe has been working with Arena for over ten years as our Costume Director so this is a wonderful debut for him. Nancy Schertler, who’s been with Arena for probably 35 years as a lighting designer, will be doing the lighting design and she knows our theater in the round like the back of her hand. Todd Rosenthal, whose set designs people have really loved—from last year’s Good People to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that went to Broadway, to A Delicate Balance that we did in Crystal City—will design as well.
It’s a real kick-ass group of people working on this project and it has the best adaptation, bar-none, that I’ve read—it’s David Hare—it’s terse, it’s funny, it’s muscular in its language. There is nobody who will walk away from seeing this production without feeling a great deal in diametric ways.
People who are unfamiliar with Mother Courage may be surprised to find out how musical it actually is. How will Brecht’s original songs be treated in this staging?
MOLLY SMITH: I think what’s interesting about what we’re doing with the music is oftentimes the music is only performed by one or two people, and in this we will sometimes have as many as 7 or 8 instruments out there, so it’s going to have a very full sound indeed. Plus there will be the addition of David Leong’s movement.
So when I say it’s deeply entertaining I mean it’ll be a circus out there sometimes; it will be a pageant sometimes. It will be a morality tale. It will be a cabaret. It’s going to be playful and vicious and full of vitality.
Are there any stand-out characteristics inherent in the actors you’ve cast that you want them to bring to their roles?
MOLLY SMITH: The actors who’ve been chosen for this project have great imagination. My expectations are that they will bring tons of ideas into the rehearsal hall so that we’re able to carve out the ideas and give the best ride possible to the audience.
We’re bringing back some of my favorite Arena Stage actors, like Kathleen Turner, after she did Red Hot Patriot last year. This will be the first time Kathleen will be singing on stage and believe me she has an absolutely deep, earthy voice.
Nick Rodriguez, who people loved in Oklahoma!, will play her son, Eilif. Nehal Johsi is playing Swiss Cheese. He was fantastic in Music Man and also Oklahoma! Meg Gillentine who played the leads in Damn Yankees and also Cabaret is playing Yvette. People haven’t seen her in a while. She’s a great dancer and a wonderful actress. Rick Foucheux is playing the Chaplain and he’s also a tuba player. Who knew? Erin Weaver, who people know from projects all over the city, is an amazingly intense ball of energy, and she’s playing Kattrin, who is Mother Courage’s daughter who cannot speak, and yet is a huge presence in the play.
Mother Courage and Her Children runs January 31 through March 9 in the Fichandler Stage.