‘Mother Courage and Her Children’ review: Undeveloped, unfocused

If you go

2 stars

“Mother Courage and Her Children” plays at Classic Stage Company through Jan. 24, 136 E. 13th St., classicstage.org

Who could have imagined that Classic Stage Company’s Off-Broadway production of “Mother Courage and Her Children” would lead to backstage turmoil and inspire serious debate about revising the classics before it even reached opening night?

Brecht’s best-known drama, “Mother Courage” follows the title character and her children as they plow a canteen cart through the battlefields of the Thirty Years’ War. As Mother Courage tries to make a profit off the war, her children fall victim to it. In the arresting final moment, she is left dragging the cart all by herself.

Tony winner Tonya Pinkins, who was playing Mother Courage, quit during previews due to serious disagreements with director Brian Kulick, who has reset the play to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and cut much of the text. (Pinkins has written multiple statements online about her departure in which she brings up race and gender.)

Nevertheless, the show must go on, and Mother Courage is now being played by Kecia Lewis, who has appeared in many Broadway musicals, including the original production of “Once On This Island.”

“Mother Courage” is a difficult work, with an episodic structure and a disaffected tone that Brecht hoped would force spectators to think critically about it.

The contemporized setting is intriguing. But on the whole, the production is undeveloped and unfocused. The musical interludes, which use prerecorded pop music by Duncan Sheik, are out of synch with Brecht’s lyrics and come off as baffling.

Lewis, who was still holding a script and calling out for lines at my performance, is still finding her way in the role, but she has moments of great authority. In any case, Lewis deserves credit for stepping in on short notice.

Among the ensemble cast are Michael Potts, who gives a fully-developed performance as the chaplain who sticks by Mother Courage, and Mirirai Sithole, who is quite moving as mute daughter Kattrin.

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