by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
Two weeks into rehearsal, star of stage and screen Kathleen Turner shared some thoughts and impressions about tackling the epic role of Mother Courage, the impact of Bertolt Brecht on theater, and what audiences should expect from Artistic Director Molly Smith’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children, which begins next week in the Fichandler Stage.
What attracted you to the role of Mother Courage?
Mother Courage is an iconic role. It's one that every actor thinks of doing at some point in their career. In theater, there are some roles that get richer and more extraordinary as one gets older. Mother Courage is a role that always interested me. There's such controversy about her. Some people see her as being so unfeeling and so locked into her own self-interests that she becomes a force of destruction, like the war. I have quite an opposite view. I find her extraordinarily caring, with a good sense of humor, and very loving toward her children—only doing, by necessity, what she must do.
How does Brecht's play resonate with today's audience?
I'm amazed at how well it resonates. There’s something Molly has brought up in rehearsals that struck me very strongly. Here we are in Washington, DC, where the decision to go to war and the business of war is centralized, and yet our current war in Afghanistan—which has lasted longer than any war in our American history—is almost invisible. There's no sense of people supporting the war. People used to roll bandages and pack boxes for our troops overseas. But now…we don't see the coffins, the coverage is strictly controlled. It is almost shameful. Bringing Mother Courage here, now, is absolutely the right thing to do, to elevate our sense of the continual war that mankind creates. This translation by David Hare shows the incredible damage done by the disparity in position and income between the people who start wars and the people who actually go to war.
How would you describe this production and what audiences should expect?
There have been misconceptions about Brecht for many years. Brecht himself said that his primary job was to entertain. The extraordinary thing about what he created—and what we're doing with this production—is how he manipulated reality. Mother Courage goes back and forth between very real, very moving, very humorous interactions between characters, into these sudden, outrageous, inexplicable production numbers. Suddenly the soldier picks up a tuba and starts dancing around. It's glorious! No part of life is so reasonable that this will lead to that, which will lead to that, and so on. There's no chain of logic involved with life and Brecht reflects that.
What discovery has surprised you the most during rehearsals?
I'm learning a great deal from our movement director, David Leong. What his creativity through movement is bringing to this production is huge. There are no scripted transitions. The lines are "Scene 1, Sweden, 1624" and then "Scene 2, Poland, 1626." There has to be something in the movement that gives the audience a sense of the passage of time and distance, and that's what David is creating. It's extraordinary. I don't think I ever realized how powerful that use of movement can be.
What three words best describe your character?
Funny. Loving. Practical.