Mother Courage and Her Children

Kathleen Turner is the headliner in this fine presentation of Brecht’s fable with music, but what is going on all around her in the Fichandler that’s just as interesting. Force of nature that she is, she can’t pull this show all by herself, even if her Mother Courage does try to pull that cart by herself. (In this production, that iconic closing image seems to get short shrift.)

David Hare’s crisp translation skates the line between jaded and glib; his “War is like love: it finds a way” crackles. The snappy music, by the multi-talented James Sugg, is outstanding: making no virtuosic demands, it tells the story, plain and simple, relying on accordion, low brass, and “found instruments” like a musical saw, and performed completely by the cast without added musicians.

This is a show that isn’t afraid to let the wires show. While generally cleaving to a design consistent with the play’s seventeenth-century setting, modern safety equipment for dangerous stunts is in full view, vocalists are (modestly) miked, a tuba player who needs a little help has his music on a stand, and the rubber wheels on that cart would not be out of place on a moon rover.

The musical centerpiece of the first act is “Each Night in May,” a violent tango (designed by David Leong) for Meg Gillentine as Yvette; Jack Willis’s salty, torch-bearing Cook stops the show in the second half with “Solomon’s Song (You’re Better Without).”

  • Mother Courage and Her Children, by Bertolt Brecht, translated by David Hare, directed by Molly Smith, composer and music supervision by James Sugg, movement by David Leong, Arena Stage Fichandler Stage, Washington