(Cast members from left, Kitu Turcas as Eilif, Mercedes Ranjit as Kattrin, Tracey B. Atin as Mother Courage, and Lev Tokol as Swiss Cheese, performing in Korda Artistic Productions presentation of Mother Courage and Her Children at Kordazone Theatre in Windsor, Ontario, on May 18, 2019. Photo above by Eric Bonnici / Eyes On Windsor.)
Famed British invasion musician Eric Burdon, as the Vietnam War of the 1960s raged, asked one of the most pertinent questions of his generation when he sang “War, what is it good for?” The answer, it turns out, was put to paper three decades earlier, in 1939, by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in a drama set in the middle of the suffocating 30-year trans-European war of the early 1600s between Catholic and Protestant countries.
Although the enduring conflict devastated Europe, at times it was good to profiteer Mother Courage but not so much her three children. All of this is explained in great detail with superb acting in the dramatic musical Mother Courage And Her Children now playing at the east end’s KordaZone Theatre, performed by the actors of Korda Artistic Productions.
Mother, despite being one of the few beneficiaries of war, if it can be described as that, is the central character in what critics have heralded as possibly the greatest modern-day anti-war play of all time. There is no stability in her nomadic life as she and her children pull a hand-crafted wagon, filled with an inventory of everything from linens to brandy, following soldiers to various battle zones in the hope of selling to the soldiers.
As the play progresses, her life goes from bad to worse, Brecht’s way of dramatizing the Nazi army of Adolph Hitler’s invasion of Poland which caused him to flee his native land. To explain the cruelties of Hitler’s march, he draws inspiration from 17th Century German writer Grimmelshausen’s The Runagate Courage, thus his locating his epic play in a much earlier period.
For Mother Courage, suffering is a daily endurance, ending with two of her offspring dead and her most beloved first born, as she admits, and battle hero Eillif – acted with resounding youthful exuberance by Kitu Turcas – in custody for pillaging, something acceptable during the conflict but not during a short intermission of peace.
Although feisty and played with an incredible depth by Tracey B. Atin, Mother Courage is certainly no hero, exactly as Brecht likes it. But, one thing he didn’t do is compose music for his play. That, as the play’s music director and keyboardist Benjamin Goldstein tells Eyes on Windsor, is the play’s latest nuance. Its score is written by local music student James Atin-Godden.
It is a most powerful soundtrack in which Atin-Godden amplifies the acting with typical period minstrel compositions and then completely surprises with delightful tunes in the vein of 1930’s jazz bandleader Cab Calloway.
Korda does, however, and to great effect, present a truly diversified production in which its actors play a number of roles. Its soldiers are sometimes Protestants – distinguished with yellow armbands – and sometimes Catholics, with identifiable red armbands.
Brecht, writes co-directors Tova Perlmutter and Tracey B. Atin, in the play’s program, used this multiplicity of roles to create his desired “‘alientation effect,’ simultaneously heightening and exposing the illusion of theatre.”
It certainly works with cast member Colin Zorzit taking on the most roles, five to be exact. Even members of the live band work the stage as well. Robert Godden on guitar and as Chaplain; Lev Tokol is both drummer and Mother’s younger son, Swiss Cheese. Jennifer DeSaulniers plays flute and clarinet as well as several parts including regimental secretary. Other cast members are Roberta Quinlan (Roberta Hunter), George Vukmirovic Kelso, Patrick White, Jenny Hunter and James Neelyas as the impatient General.
There are some notable exceptions of cast members with a single duty, including the company’s steady hand Bob Godden, playing the Chaplain and responsible for a well-executed musical soliloquy. Another, spoken word lament by Jeff Wilkenson, the play’s cook, ties up the mixed emotions of those living during the duress of war.
In Brecht’s mind, there are no actors to be admired in his all gloom all the time treatise of the vagaries of conflict, but in Korda’s production, its actors soundly shine through the darkness. One particularly poignant scene has Mother’s mute daughter, the lovely Mercedes Ranjit, winning the audience’s heart when she falls upon a stylish red hat and even more stylish red shoes and takes to modelling them with great aspirations.
For today’s cosmopolitan audience, the play carries with it an undercurrent of sexuality, certainly not explicit but expected. After all what is war without love even in its base form.
This is the first time the play has been performed on a Windsor stage and its inherent intrigue is genuinely matched with solid acting but most of all some outstanding singing, particularly by Mother herself, Tracey B. Attin, particularly in the show stopping Great Capitulation song, one of the top tier highlights of a play that is well worth watching.
Additional performances will be held at the Kordazone Theatre on May 19, 23, 24, 25, & 26. Showtimes are at 8pm except for the 2pm matinees on May 19 and 26. Tickets are $20 for General Admission, $15 for Seniors, and $10 for Students and are available at the door or in advance at Eventbrite, Juniper Books and The Nancy Johns Gallery and Framing, or by calling 519-252-2041. For more information visit kordazone.com or the Eyes On Windsor events calendar listing for Mother Courage and Her Children.
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.