In the documentary, Theater of War, John W. Walter takes the film audience back stage to observe George C. Wolfe’s production of legendary playwright, Berholdt Brecht’s, Mother Courage. The combination of art and politics woven into Brecht’s 1949 play is mirrored in Walter’s documentary. More than inspiring admiration, Theater of War calls us to action in protesting war today just as Mother Courage did more than a half-century ago.
In the heat of summer 2006, the open-air Delacorteo Theater located in Central Park, New York City, housed the production of Mother Courage and her Children, directed by George C. Wolfe. Tony Kushner first became interested in translating the piece because of the way Brecht’s material (Three Penny Opera and readings of Marx) impacted his own life in regard to war and abuse of authority.
According to their daughter Barbara, Berholdt Brecht (1898-1956) and his wife, actress Helene Wiegl operated as a team. Helene starred in Mother Courage in the early performances which were held in Berlin’s Deutsches Theatre in 1949. Rare archive film footage showed the famous theater marquee which advertised Mother Courage which is all the more notable because it was not destroyed in the war. Berholdt and Helene were living in Berlin when it premiered. Brecht’s message in Mother Courage was, “You gain nothing in war and you must prevent it at all cost.”
Woven into the historical background about Berholdt Brecht, Walter uses archive film footage to bring to life two riveting performances of Mother Courage, one by Helene and the other by Meryl Streep. He eloquently puts a face on Mother Courage, the voice of dead people and an interpreter of lost songs, and reminds us again of the unnecessary tragedy of war.