The Minor Latham Playhouse will host the Columbia University Players’ production of “Mother Courage and Her Children” starting Thursday night.
The Bertolt Brecht play, written after the Third Reich’s invasion of Poland, follows the story of a canteen woman, nicknamed Mother Courage, who has to navigate the difficulties of motherhood in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War. However, instead of setting the play in 17th century Poland, this production has modernized the set, and even includes a Halal cart on stage.
This production features an all-female cast, even though there are male characters, and is being directed by Julien Hawthorne, CC ’14,as his last show as an undergraduate. He directed Jean Genet’s “The Maids” last semester and has acted in several of the theater department’s plays.
For Hawthorne, tackling Brecht’s anti-war opus in a six-week time frame was a task that presented several difficulties on a six-week time frame for practical and substantive reasons.
“I think that the main challenge of putting this play on is that it demands that we as artists take a stand, one way or another,” Hawthorne said. “With Brecht, it’s not enough to just probe the problem—you need to say something concrete.”
The difficulty that the play presents to the creative team is also present for the actors. Rachel Shafran, CC ’16, who plays the mute daughter of Mother Courage, Kattrin, said that with a Brecht play, the job of the performers is “not so much about turning a mirror on society, but about changing society.”
“Brecht and naturalism are different in that Brechtian acting is about making a statement about your character and their place in society as opposed to simply being a character,” she said.
For Shafran, whose acting experience consists of this year’s Egg and Peacock 24-hour play festival, simply being a character is already challenge enough.
“One of the hardest things to do in acting is to react,” Shafran said. “And the majority of what I do is react to things happening around me. … It’s different because you aren’t tied to the scene in the same way other people are—their dialogue.”
But the difficulty in making the play’s themes materialize onstage, for Hawthorne, is worth it for the larger statement of the play, even though the play can be interpreted in different ways.
“It goes without saying that it has to be taken seriously, but at the same time, it begs to be parodied,” Hawthorne said.
With the curtain about to rise on the last show he directs before graduation, Hawthorne’s concern is with too many people liking the play—partially because the main character is meant to be unlikable.
“It’s not as simple as, ‘The war makes it hard for her [Mother Courage] to be a mother.’ It’s difficult to be a mother, but in the end, she chooses not to be,” Hawthorne said. Still, he added that, “she is a sympathetic character because she’s so intelligent and charming, and her problems are so real.”
The problems that Mother Courage faces, according to Shafran, aren’t unique to the 17th century, either.
“It takes place in the 1620s and ’30s, but I think, unfortunately, it will always be relevant to society,” she said. “It’s a commentary on war and survival and capitalism. … This sounds so cliché, but it’s timeless in a lot of ways just because its themes are meant to resonate in a lot of ways.”
Mother Courage opens March 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the Minor Latham Playhouse and runs through March 8, with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Weronika Jurkiewicz contributed reporting to this article.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the play was set in 17th century Poland. In fact, this production has been modernized. In addition, an earlier version of the article misquoted Julien Hawthorne. That quote has now been removed. Spectator regrets the errors.