Triumphant ‘Mother Courage’ play

TheatreUNIs Mother Courage and Her Children featured Professor Cynthia Goatleys final performance.


TheatreUNI’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” featured Professor Cynthia Goatley’s final performance.

SHELBY WELSCH, Theater and Event Critic

“Mother Courage and Her Children” is an anti-war play that was written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939. The German playwright and poet wrote the script in resistance to the rise of fascism and nazism and as a response to the invasion of Poland by Hitler’s army in 1939.

Four theatrical productions of the play were produced in Switzerland and Germany from 1941 to 1952, the last three directed by Brecht himself. Several years after Brecht’s death in 1959, the play was adapted into a famous German film starring Helene Weigel, Brecht’s widow. “Mother Courage” is considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

TheatreUNI took on the task of tackling this classic and performed “Mother Courage and Her Daughters” Nov. 29 through Dec. 1. This particular version of the play was adapted by assistant professor of theatre performance Matthew Weedman, who called it a “Relevant, exciting take on one of the great classics of theatre.”

TheatreUNI’s version of the plot stayed fairly true to the original. Mother Courage, a strong-willed woman looking to make a quick buck, loaded up her wooden wagon with various goods, along with her three daughters, and circled around armies fighting an unending war in an attempt to swindle people into buying her overpriced items. While her daughters die one by one, she remains convinced that she has the wits to outsmart the war while still maintaining a steady cash flow. However, she soon comes to realize that you can’t put a price on family, trust or love, and that war always has a way of coming back to bite you.

All of the actors in “Mother Courage” did a great job. There wasn’t a single person who had a flop of a performance. The most notable performance, however, would have to be from Mother Courage herself. The character was played by Cynthia Goatley, professor in the theatre department here at UNI. Goatley is retiring after this year. This was her big farewell to the university.

She made Mother Courage into a hilarious, spunky and, most importantly, huge pain in the ass of a character. When Brecht first wrote his play 70 years ago, he said that he felt like people were misunderstanding the character of Mother Courage, and that her character shouldn’t produce empathy from the audience because she is not supposed to be depicted as a noble character.

With this in mind, I thought Goatley did a great job at making Mother Courage hilarious and fun to watch, while still maintaining that distrust factor that is so important to the theme, verifying that war can bring out the worst in people.

Another aspect that I loved about this play were the small musical numbers and how cool they looked with this particular set design. The stage was very simple and consisted of trees and scenery in the background, as well as a big circular platform in the middle of the stage that had the ability to spin.

When the characters came out and performed the musical numbers, they would spin the platform back and forth. Everybody danced, sang, marched and chanted away to some extremely synchronized choreography either atop the rotating platform or off to the sides of the stage. Whoever choreographed the dances deserves a trophy because it was very neat to watch.

Lastly, the lighting and sound effects were really cool. Between each scene, the lights would dim and the sound of a gong would ring through the audience. Then grim music would play, which set the scene of a war-ridden setting very well and always reminded the audience that the play is meant to be dark. The lighting was always right on point and would change colors and brightness based on the moods of the scenes. I found this to be totally genius.

It’s not a simple task to create a fresh and relevant spin on an old classic, but TheatreUNI did just that. Every aspect of this play had a lot of thought put into it, whether it was the writing, acting, lighting, costumes, etc. This hard work did not go unnoticed.