"Reviewing" a work that's still "in-progress" is bad form. And that's not what I am going to do in this post. Review a work in progress.
But I am going to advise you to drop what you're doing if you can and go see dog & pony dc's Courage: a workshop production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop on Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Scena Theatre is also about to roll out its production of Mother Courage on June 1 (of which I hope to have more to say before it opens) -- and I don't think it's any surprise that this Brecht play is in the air in D.C. After all, Brecht took his inspiration for the play from Johann Grimmelshausen's The Life of Courage -- a violent bawdy sequel to Simplicissimus, Grimmelshausen's masterpiece about the Thirty Years War.
We're almost 10 years into war in Aghanistan and Iraq and now, essentially, Pakistan. War fatigue is high -- even at only one-third the distance. Our war also has some of the same stinks of Brecht (via Grimmelshausen)'s Thirty Years War. Who is Mother Courage but an outsourced arm of the conflict? And profiteering? Nope, nothing to relate to there in our own time, is there?
There are two other reasons I think you should go check out what dog & pony are doing with Mother Courage -- even at this early stage. (They will make their formal debut of the play next summer.)
The first reason is that this is a rare opportunity -- and a brave choice by director Rachel Grossman -- to open up the process and let the audience see how theatre really gets made. The production is still finding its legs in some respects. Gambits are being played. Traditional Brechtian devices are being forced to earn their keep or be jettisoned.
The second reason to go is that what's already there -- from the music (think Beirut meets Gogol Bordello) to the performances to the concept -- is already quite powerful.
And the power of the concept is really worth diving into a bit here. Grossman's already testing the sturdiness of Brecht's text by infusing it with a cabaret feel that's more Threepenny Opera than postwar Berliner Ensemble. (The fact that last week's workshops took place at Chief Ike's bar in Adams Morgan only heightened that effect.)
The cool thing is that we won't know until next summer how far Grossman decides to push this. But to me, just trying it in a workshop environment is a promising devlopment for Brecht and for the possibility of larger scale ensemble political theater in America. As someone who's taken shots at the outsized influence of Harold Pinter closing off the epic tradition in the U.S., I also think it's fair to say that Brecht's outsized influence (and the reverence that his diktats on presentation are given to this day) has been equally stultifying -- much to the detriment of his own legacy and what he can still teach us.
So go. Seriously. Go. And if you do, check out the production blog.