Monday, August 14, 2006

Meryl Courage and her Children

If you have the slightest interest in this production, run, camp, do whathever you need to do, because it is totally worth it. I'm willing not only to wait in line again for 5 hours, but to see the play again, all three hours of it, and this does not happen to me too often.
As Mother Courage, one of the greatest theater roles ever written, Meryl Streep kicks so much butt, it's almost scary. You would think she is too elegant and refined to portray a woman such as Courage, oh but you would be very wrong. She creates the character with her voice, lower and hoarser than usual, with every inch of her body and her miraculous intelligence, and with an unbelievable amount of energy, endless, unstoppable, alive energy; she has energy even when she is dead tired. It is something to behold. She has great musicality, rhythm, perfect timing, perfect pitch, and I'm not talking about her singing, which is fine too. Her Mother Courage is all business, all cunning, and she is feisty and funny and singlemindedly monstrous but also very, very human. A Mother. She is all about survival, and who can blame her? Caveat: once in a while I thought there were a few too many tics and mannerisms, but that is fineschmecking. Meryl Streep rocks. She rocks, rocks, rocks and then she rocks some more. She is better than ever.

Although I have heard about this play all my life, this was the very first time I saw it. It is a great, amazing play. Where has it been all my life? It's the story of our time and of every other farshtunkener time in human history. No sap, no schmaltz, just the disturbing, acerbic truth, hitting you like a wrecking ball on the pit of the stomach. It should be shown once a year just like they do with The Nutcracker or It's a Wonderful Life or The Wizard of Oz. Mother Courage once a year for everybody: perhaps every 9/11, or on the anniversary of any catastrophic war of your choice.

Tony Kushner's updating is right on target. The language is fresh and smart and acerbic and quite rich, which I loved. He purposefully attacks the present Administration with some very pointy dialogue and good for him. The parallels are too obvious to ignore. Only a couple of times the humor seemed a bit sitcomish to me (from a high quality sitcom, but...) and maybe that could be ascribed more to the line readings than to the text. The play is very text heavy, there are a lot of words and songs, and Brechtian songs tend to go on forever. The music by Jeanine Tesori strikes the right Brechtian chords and the staging by George C. Wolfe is electrifying and stunning at times. Its explosions and fires and barrages of ammunition are eerie reminders of situations that people are living through today in Iraq and Africa and Lebanon and northern Israel. The timeliness is chilling.

The first act was superb and the second quite long. Be forewarned and sit it out.
As this was a preview, they are still ironing out some technical kinks. Austin Pendleton, who is hilarious as the Chaplain, flubbed his lines several times yesterday, and so did Ms. Streep (who is onstage talking non-stop for most of the play). At one point they were in a scene together with Kevin Kline and they seemed to have lost their cues and were so all over the place that she flubbed a word, "hyena", and she was unable to control a fit of the giggles, but then she came back and barked it out at the audience with a vengeance and the audience just ate it up.
Jenifer Lewis is fabulous as Yvette, the whore, and most of the cast is perfectly fine. You can always count that there will be one actor who sounds like they are eating a baked potato with all the trimmings, and last night was no exception (the sergeant who appears in the first scene).
The one guy who did not impress me (again) was Kevin Kline. He sings a great song, Song of Solomon, and there he delivers the goods like a pro, but for the role of Cook, a greasy, horrid scoundrel, he is just not sleazy enough. The man's a monster and Mr. Kline seems like a matinee idol. The blond wig doesn't help. Imagine, in his stead, Walken. Alas...

In any case, at this point you may have surmised that I loved it and it was a great experience and you should park your butt on the line and check it out.

1 comment:

  1. Sleeping Giant5:14 PM

    Thrilled to hear it!! Great review! Can't wait to see it Wedneday. Let me know if you want to try the Central Park follies again... we'll probably head over around 7:30 am.