Antiwar classic ‘Mother Courage’ PAD’s spring play

Armies burning with religious fervor, towns overrun by mercenary violence, a family disintegrating amidst the crossfire.

Photo by David Kilper

The student cast of “Mother Courage,” the PAD’s spring production that opens at Edison Theatre April 17.

Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” is widely considered the greatest antiwar play of the 20th century. Beginning April 17, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present this epic tale of a protective yet all-too-pragmatic matriarch as its spring Mainstage production.

Performances take place in Edison Theatre at 8 p.m. April 17 and 18 and at 2 p.m. April 19. The show continues the following weekend at 8 p.m. April 24 and 25 and at 2 p.m. April 26.

Brecht wrote “Mother Courage” in 1939, in the shadow of the Nazi invasion of Poland but set the story during the Thirty Years War, which raged across Germany and most of Europe between 1618 and 1648. The PAD production — based on the translation by British playwright David Hare — updates the setting to a kind of timeless, post-Apocalyptic present.

“It should feel like a contemporary every-war,” said director William Whitaker, senior lecturer in drama. “There’s a protracted, relentless struggle that nobody quite understands, and the balance of power keeps shifting back and forth. But nothing is so literal that you necessarily think of Iraq or Afghanistan or Belfast or the Gaza Strip.”

The plot centers on Anna Fierling, nicknamed “Mother Courage,” who travels from camp to camp with her three children, selling food, shoes and brandy from a hand-pushed canteen cart.

“Mother Courage tries to work both sides,” Whitaker said. “She’s always cutting a deal, and there’s debate about whether she’s a survivor or a profiteer. But ultimately the war takes everything from her.”

“Elif, the elder son, can’t wait for the fighting,” Whitaker said. “The feckless younger son, Swiss Cheese, is sweet and honest but not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Daughter, Kattrin, though rendered mute by a traumatic encounter with a group of soldiers, remains “probably the sanest of the bunch,” he said.

Still, for all its tragedy, “Mother Courage” is leavened with mordant humor and — though it is unlikely to be mistaken for a musical — song and dance. “There are funny lyrics, strange characters, ridiculous situations, even a lecherous chaplain,” Whitaker said. “Brecht has the very contemporary idea that the people one is supposed to most revere are actually sketchy at best.”

“Brecht never gets sentimental,” said Whitaker, who previously directed the playwright’s “Good Person of Szechuan” for the PAD. “He doesn’t want you to feel sorry for Mother Courage, and he never wants you to get lost in the story.

“He wants you to go out and do something,” Whitaker said.

The cast of 17 is led by senior Kaylin Boosalis as Mother Courage. Kattrin, Elif and Swiss Cheese are played, respectively, by senior Alexa Shoemaker and sophomores Jonathan Levinson and Dan Tobin. Freshman Sam King is the cook, and junior Catherine Moreton portrays the camp prostitute, Yvette. Senior David Weiss is the chaplain. Ten ensemble players combine for an additional 28 roles.

Stage design — by Michael Loui, scene shop supervisor and technical director in the PAD — is pointedly spare and stripped of theatrical artifice, with lights, scaffolding, musicians and backstage crew all visible to the audience.

Costumes, which variously suggest looted stores and Desert Storm camouflage, are by Bonnie Kruger, senior lecturer in drama.

Original music — by Jeff Noonan, teacher of applied music in Arts & Sciences — is based on 17th-century themes but ranges from rock to Gregorian chant. The four-piece band is led by senior Luis-Michael Zayas. Lighting is by lecturer Sean Savoie.

Tickets — $10 for students, faculty, staff and senior citizens and $15 for the public — are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543 or visit