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The Mother of All Brechts 

Wednesday, Sep 20 2006
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Bertolt Brecht is best known among theater buffs for his chintzy-chic Weimar Republic cabaret collaborations with Kurt Weill. But Mother Courage, one of the most depressing accounts of war ever penned in the 20th century, is his true masterpiece. Although it was written in 1939, when the Nazis came storming through Poland, Brecht set his play during the Thirty Years War (the campaign of carnage waged by the Hapsburg dynasty from 1618 to 1648 resulting in a tug-of-war between Catholics and Protestants). It doesn't quite parallel any contemporary major bloodbaths, but the prescience of the tale, despite all the arcane references, is far from lost on a modern audience. The plucky titular heroine, a woman named Anna Frieling, is a shameless mercenary who sells food and other provisions to anyone who'll pay. Unlike the regular old tragic hero — who undergoes a bout or two of hubris before getting his gloomy comeuppance — Mother Courage is hard to sympathize with. She's a skinflint who flip-flops on loyalties and profits from a war in which her three children (Swiss Cheese, Eilif, and Katrin) ultimately die. In Brecht's unsentimental, witty, yet twice-removed way, the heart-wrenching tragedy becomes not just the immorality of war, but rather, its effect on the human condition.
Sept. 8-Oct. 22

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Nirmala Nataraj

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