'Mother Courage and Her Children' opens tonight

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PUTNEY — "Mother Courage and Her Children," the modern classic drama that changed the direction of theater in the twentieth century, is coming to southern Vermont. The Apron Theater Company will present Bertolt Brecht's play at Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, Thursday through Sunday, and next week July 20 to 22. The Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m. There will be one matinee this Sunday at 2 p.m.

This sprawling, boisterous play confronts the savagery of war with sardonic humor, frequently expressed through song. Brecht had learned in The Threepenny Opera the power of music to entertain and underline a point. We can't help laughing, but there's a shudder underneath. In this production, nine actors play thirty-two different characters: officers, soldiers, peasants, a prostitute, a cook, a chaplain, Mother Courage's two sons and mute daughter. The sons explain how she got the name: "She drove through a bombardment with fifty loaves of bread in her wagon!" Was this heroism to feed starving people or a chance to make a sale? "I couldn't help myself," she said, "They were going moldy." She fights to survive and keep her children safe, but she can't resist the lure of a deal. Then there's the wagon with her merchandise, almost another character. The final image of her hauling it alone across the scarred landscape of war is one of the most memorable moments in the history of theater. It's hard to resist. But is she a tragic heroine or a war profiteer? Victim or exploiter?

Karla Baldwin directs this production, and Christopher Emily Coutant takes on the famously challenging role of the battlefield market woman. Christopher spoke recently about those challenges: "She's so contradictory! She's passionate about conflicting goals. You know, people can be mixed up that way, and it can get you in serious trouble. It certainly does with her. But how does an actor show all that? I'm working on it. The songs help. They sort of clarify things. And they're fun! Brecht's humor can be quite broad, even bawdy at times. Like in Shakespeare, tragedy and farce in the same scene."

Bertolt Brecht created a new kind of theater for what he called the "dark times" in which he lived — theater that disdained the illusions of naturalism and the cozy conventions of middle class comedy in order to address head-on the political and social forces that were overturning the lives of ordinary people. He set Mother Courage during the Thirty Years War of the 1600s, a period as vivid in the memory of his native Germany as the Civil War is for us. But he was thinking about his own time. He had fled from the Nazis. Fascism was ascendant, threatening all of Europe, fomenting anti-semitism and racial prejudice. War would come in a few months.

Today, many consider that we live in a new "dark time" with some of the same threats reappearing: xenophobic nationalism, refugees fleeing ethnic or religious hatred, civil war in Syria, terrorist atrocities. Mother Courage remains as relevant and electrifying as it ever was.

Next Stage is at 15 Kimball Hill, Putney. Tickets are $15 and available at www.nextstagearts.org or 802-387-0071.

For more information contact: Maria Basescu, Executive Director, 802-387-0102 or nextstagearts@gmail.com, or visit.nextstagearts.org.


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