Bertholt Brecht's greatest play, Mother Courage and Her Children, has been regarded as a tough show to put on successfully. It is set during the Thirty Years' War in the 1600s when Catholics fought Protestants all across Central Europe and even into Sweden. It, of course, is a famous anti-war play, since it shows how a stalwart woman strives to make her sorry living from providing victuals and supplies from her cart to soldiers but suffers tragedy in the process.
The current production, at D.C.'s respected regional theater, Arena Stage, features Kathleen Turner in the leading role, and she does a bang-up job as the rough, tough Mother Courage,who in the end, beneath her hard-bargaining exterior, has a soft spot for soldiers and just about everyone else she encounters in the treks across warring Europe.
The play has been augmented with a series of songs, many seeming similar to the sprechstimme style that Brecht introduced in Berlin in the '20s with his great musical collaborator, Kurt Weill, most notably in Der Dreigroschenoper, or The Threepenny Opera. The songs worked, and gave the play an added asset.
By the end of the two-and-one-half-hour-plus performance, you feel almost as exhausted as Turner must be from her exertions. Yet it is a wonderful experience and worth seeing for its drama and excellent performances as well as its message. Though sometimes regarded as a polemicist, Brecht did know how to entertain as well. This was a marvelous evening at the theatre.