Last evening I drove over to Lakeland College
for a presentation of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage. As written by Brecht, the play is an examination of man's inhumanity to man in the context of the Protestant-Catholic conflicts in Ireland. In this re-staging, we see man's inhumanity to man through the lens of Christian-Muslim conflicts; and instead of hearing about "the king's" failures and blindesses, we hear about "the president's." Even as updated by the Lakeland College Theatre, Brecht's is a ringing indictment.
The play was directed by James Crawford, a professor of theater and speech at Lakeland; and it was designed by Staci Abrahamson, a student in my Advanced Comp class this semester. Staci was responsible for the look of things in the world of Mother Courage, with its Greek-style spareness of the stage on the one hand and the war-weariness of the set on the other. Kazuki Goshima directed the combat scenes.
Linda TeStroete turned in a strong performance as Mother Courage, as did Cristopher Wray and Cole Zondag as her sons and Eric Rautmann as the cook; yet the actress who won my heart was Bridget Johnston, who played Kattrin, the non-speaking daughter of Mother Courage; Kattrin is shot down at the end of the play while warning the town of an impending attack. Johnston quietly created a strong presence on stage; she didn't speak, but she didn't have to say a word to convey her meaning; I could only be amazed at the depth of her non-speaking performance. Two students from my Creative Nonfiction class of fall 2004 were also in the cast, Jessica Larson as "Peasant Woman" and Paul Davis as one of the soldiers.
Despite some lack of clear enunciation, which is common in student productions, and despite some missed lines and missed cues, which I also forgive, this was a terribly moving presentation of Brecht's vision. Always at the end of the stylized hand-to-hand combat scenes, the contestants were shot down by the two soldiers, one at each edge of the stage; and the meaning for today was all the more powerful given that both soldiers appeared to be dressed in the camouflage uniforms of our National Guard and equipped with the National Guard's rifles. The message of futility could not have been clearer. There is no escape from this insanity, no matter which end of the rifle you are on.
After the cast took their bows and the rest of the audience was already starting to shuffle out, I had a hard time getting out of my seat: I was still contemplating what I had just seen. Whatever the little miscues and failures of the players, the end result was still as powerful as a horse kick to the chest.