Berlovitz terrific in searing 'Mother Courage'

Mother Courage and Her Children is never going to be an easy ride. Bertolt Brecht's epic drama about the cost of war centers on a character whose desire for profit causes the death of her three children. In the right hands, it can be a searing night of drama, full of black humor and an even bleaker view on humanity. The Bricklayers Theatre, Collectif Masque, and former Jeune Lune company member Barbra Berlovitz definitely have that.

A crowded schedule meant I had to attend Thursday night's preview, but even with that caveat this is a show worth seeing. The production sports a creative design--from the half masks the actor's wear to Sonya Berlovitz's innovative (as always) costumes--and the actors are able to match that with a stylized approach that brings out the absurdity and madness of an eternal war.


Cutting across more than a decade of the 30 Years War, Mother Courage follows the main character and her three children, who make a living riding with the Protestant forces, selling food and goods to the soldiers. Courage's main goals are to keep making a living and protect her three children. At key points, her desire for the first causes the ruin of each of them.

There could be room for sympathy for the main character. After all, she's a single parent trying to survive in extremely trying times. But Brecht, by way of Tony Kushner's translation, isn't having any of that. Written after Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, the play spares little for any of the characters apart from poor, mute daughter Kattrin, who silently rides along until an attempt at heroism causes her end.

That, along with an acting style that pushes absurdity to the breaking point, could all be off putting. Yet the show stays absorbing throughout. A good part of this can be attributed to Berlovitz's performance, which draws out all of the facets of Courage's character and makes for an engaging creation from beginning to end. The overall design helps as well, as do the performances from the other six members of the company, who craft a variety of mad creations for the play's other characters.

Mother Courage and Her Children runs at the Lab Theatre through February 20