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“Mother Courage” Scores High With Anne Bancroft (Oakland Tribune, May 1963)

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California); 6 May 1963; pg. 40.

Author: Theresa Loeb Cone

NEW YORK–Anne Bancroft, who received her Academy Award as “Best Actress” last month by proxy, continues to star in the Broadway staging of Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage, the production which kept her in New York during the Oscar hoopla. 

Although Brecht, Germany’s greatest playwright of the last 50 years, is vastly popular in Europe, especially in his native country, most American theatregoers know him mainly via the long-run, off-Broadway presentation of The Threepenny Opera.

Little Theatres, however, have done great service for Brecht over the last 15 years. Bay Area audiences have been more fortunate than most. They had an opportunity to see many Brecht plays, especially the Actor’s Workshop’s recent Galileo and the group’s version of Mother Courage a few years ago. 

Good Cast:

Mother Courage at the Martin Beck Theater boasts a cast of singular excellence, with Miss Bancroft properly dominating events. She is the very epitome of the miserly, yet warm-hearted; wiley yet vulnerable; defeated yet indomitable Mother Courage who sells merchandise to the populace of several countries–soldier and civilian–from a covered wagon she hauls through the dismal 30 years war of the 17th Century.

Jerome Robbins has directed Brecht’s vehement denunciation of war to emphasize the pitiable lack of lessons learned by experience.

As a background to some of the action, huge photographs of World War I soldiers trudging along in much the same manner as Mother Courage, are flashed on the unadorned, curved screen against which the play’s 13 scenes are played. 

Elimination:

Several speeches and songs have been eliminated from the original version, but the cuts do not diminish the Brechtian impact made through the pungent, bitter, mocking dialogue and ironic events.

During the course of the play, Mother Courage’s business rises and falls with the demand for goods made scarce by the religious conflict. Although she loses all three of her children to the war, she finds herself like many another before and since, dreading peace which may mean poverty for her.

The only heroism depicted in Mother Courage with its cynical yet oddly compassionate view of human behavior is evidenced by the woman’s mute daughter who is killed when she warns a sleeping Saxon town it was about to be attacked.

Miss Lampert’s Role:

In this role, beautiful Zohra Lampert, who has been wasted in Hollywood films, is both a frightful and touching figure, especially in the final moments when she beats warning drums with deliberate defiance as soldiers threaten her.

Barbara Harris is outstanding as a camp follower who strikes it rich by marrying an aged Army officer.

Gene Wilder as a chaplain in disguise to avoid being slain by Catholic troops; Mike Kellin as a cook with Don Juan proclivities; Conrad Bromberg as the son executed in peacetime for the same deeds which won him honor during the war and ex-San Fransiscan Eugene Roche rate special applause. 

‘War is Terrible’:

As it was being pulled around by the bare stage with agonizing effort by Mother Courage taking place of her dead children and the final curtain descending, a smartly-dressed lady behind me complained to her companion: “All I got out of this play is that war is terrible and I knew that already.”

The overflow audience around us, however, evidently felt considerable more satisfied with the powerful production. It certainly deserved every one of the “bravos” in the air and then some.

We lost count after the ninth curtain call.

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