What’s on Jim’s Mind (Issue #104)
Well, the last ten days have been quite a week…
Is that a Yogi-ism? Like “it ain’t over till it’s over” or, more appropriate to my feelings about the story of these last ten days of our Mother Courage and the gallant Irondale company that has lived through it with me, “You can observe a lot by watching.” What I have observed is a group of amazingly talented people, the best group we have ever had put together overcoming eight days of lost performances due to one of the actors testing positive to gather up again on Sunday, to build on all the fine work they had done in the seven weeks of rehearsal and the first week of performances that took place before they were shut down, come roaring back stronger than ever,
What is a great play? My personal definition is it’s one that reveals itself slowly, peeling away myriad layers of story, characters, language to uncover the unique heart of an individual production. No two Hamlets or Lears or Mother Courages are ever alike. Each is an entity unto itself. And without skipping a beat this group of amazing people have found theirs. They have created a story that I didn’t know was there when we begin work in January 2021 and took us through months of Sunday afternoon Zoom “salons”, the radio version of the play we did a year ago, and all the rewording and retranslating that took place as my ever increasing Duolingo knowledge of the German language revealed a world of secrets hidden for all to see in the original text.
What we have arrived at is the story of an incredible woman. She’s tough, very funny, and sometimes plays fast and loose with finances and the truth to keep her family together and alive in a world that feels very much like today’s
In this version, the play is very funny…..until it isn’t, comic until it’s tragic, and, at its heart, is the story of one woman who keeps on going as the world around her crumbles and is destroyed.
Mother Courage is the final installment in our three play Brecht in Exile series. Like all great plays each of them offers great insight both into the dark time in which they were written and the dark time in which we are performing them now, they provide both warnings and understanding of what has come before and what we are living through. And each offers up the example of how their principle character reacts to the times. Galileo condemned his own actions, Shen Te appealed to the gods who could not or would not help. Here we have the story of the woman who always keeps on going.
We’re going on for one more week, five more performances this Wednesday through Sunday. Come and see it for yourselves. My letter today is bookended by two songs. At the beginning is an audio recording of one of the several versions of the Mother Courage Song that reoccur at various times throughout the play, sort of Brecht’s version of Damn Yankees “You Gotta Have Heart.” And at the end is a video from an early rehearsal in which Vicky (Mother Courage) sang the lullaby that is part of the show’s ending for the very first time, accompanied by Sam who wrote all the music for all three plays of Brecht in Exile. Enjoy.
— Jim Niesen