Reviews for December 24th, 2008
Theater of War
Directed by John Walter.
This provocative and mildly fascinating documentary focuses on the interprations of Bertolt Brecht’s play “Mother Courage and Her Children” as well as the rehearsal for its 2006 production, directed by George C. Wolf and translated by Tony Kushner, at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Talented actress Meryl Streep, who stars as in that production, candidly discusses her thoughts and feelings about playing Mother Courage and how she perceives her as not just a tragic figure, but an everyday character that goes through universal hardships that everyone can emotionally connect with. She steps back a bit to stress her opinion that to film actors rehearsing a show is like observing all the plumbing and pipes of a new building in a way that doesn’t highlight the brilliance and essence of the production itself. In a way, she emphasizes what sociopsychologist Erving Goffman once said about how people live two different versions of life: one frontstage and one backstage. The experiences backstage appear to be very messy and chaotic with many flaws, but frontstage the chaos turns into something more coherent and structured. It’s interesting to learn about the life of playwright Bertolt Brecht during the 1950’s when he testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about allegations that he was a member of the Communist Party. After denying those allegations using a thick accent in front of the HUAC, he fled to East Germany. Brecht’s assistant director, Carl Weber, reminisces about those moments as well as the opening night of the production of “Mother Courage and Her Children” in 1949 Berlin. Unfortunately, director John Walter does a lazy job of structuring Theater of War into a truly sharp, coherent and compelling documentary. The observations about Brecht’s life and interpretations of his work as an artist are somewhat fascinating and informative, but there isn’t enough analysis and exploration when it comes to the significance of the play. As such, Theater of War remains mildly engaging with brief moments of insight, but it’s mostly a missed opportunity to dig deeper into the play’s sociopolitical relevance to the world of today. Number of times I checked my watch: 3. Released by White Buffalo Entertainment. Opens at the Film Forum.