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The Dartmouth
February 22, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Musing on war, Brecht's 'Mother Courage' opens tonight

Tonight's opening performance of this Fall term's mainstage dramatic production, Bertolt Brecht's masterpiece "Mother Courage and Her Children," narrates a powerful and moving story of a woman and her children who face the furies of business and war.

The show opens tonight and will have a two-week run of seven performances in the Moore Theater.

Drama Professors Mara Sabinson and James Loehlin have taken the helm of the term-long collaboration between faculty and students. Sabinson also takes the title role as Mother Courage.

David Harbour '97, Skye Gurney '99 and Caleb Scott '97 also star as her children.

Loehlin called the play a "kind of experiment in the department." Inspired by the "collaborative style" of several student productions, the two professors decided to take an unusual step by sharing the role of director and having one of them act in the production, he said.

The setup worked out favorably, he said. Loehlin, who has also acted in previous Dartmouth productions, said he found co-directing to be a "good experience."

"We never had any serious disagreements," Loehlin said. "We always seemed to be coming at the same angle."

Sabinson last took up dual responsibilities in the drama department's production of another Brecht play, "The Good Woman of Szechuan," in 1988. She stepped into the lead role after a student fell ill and was forced to leave the production.

Sabinson has also always had a hankering to play Mother Courage, a role which Loehlin called "one of the great female roles in European drama." Her desire and experience superseded the demands of the lead role in the play.

This particular Brecht play narrates the tale of a woman and her three children living in the 1600s who are trying to make ends meet during the Thirty Years War. Brecht wrote the play in 1939 after having fled Nazi Germany for Scandinavia.

Mother Courage and her children follow the troops taking part in the war and subsist by selling supplies to the soldiers.

Pulling her wagon across the battlefields and through the decades, Mother Courage profits during the fiercest fighting, and ironically, suffers whenever there are signs of peace.

She tries to maintain an existence separate from the war, but ultimately it absorbs her. The soldiers predict to her at the beginning of the play, "If you want the war to nourish you, you've got to got to feed it something too."

"Mother Courage" focuses on the devastating power of war, but the play itself also reflects the range and variety of Brecht's epic theater, according to a Hopkins Center press release.

Songs, humor, sharp social satire and overt theatricality contribute to Brecht's ironic vision of war as a "continuation of business by other means."

The play was chosen based upon its reputation as a twentieth-century masterpiece. Loehlin said most Americans are not familiar enough with this play, which he said is performed in all the great theaters across Europe.

Brecht holds a place in literary history as one of the great German poets and playwrights. He is also known for her collaboration with Kurt Weill on "The Threepenny Opera."

Because of his hatred of Fascism and the Nazis, Brecht lived much of his creative life outside of Germany, including some time in the United States. But he spent his last years in East Berlin, where he trained and directed his own company, the Berliner Ensemble, in productions of his works.

"Mother Courage and Her Children" is one in a series of productions designated as part of the Hopkins Center's season program every term.

Rehearsals for the play began the first week of the term, averaging approximately 24 hours per week, Loehlin said. The time investment is purported to have paid off.

Other professors have taken a role in the production as well. Drama Professors George Alexi-Meskhishvili, Margaret Spicer and Dan Kotlowitz coordinated the set design, costumes and lighting, respectively.

Gurney spouted praise for Alexi-Meskhishvili and his innovative set designs for the production.

"His use of texture and space never ceases to amaze me," Gurney said. "He is truly one of the unsung heroes of the show."