Here my description and evaluation becomes intermixed with argument. It’s a problematic line, especially between critique and “here’s how I would do it.” I would be much more careful if this was a published review. But hey, this is just my blog, and I can do what I like.
Part of my argument goes to the point alluded to before, about how much Brechtian theory is necessary, or even how is it appropriately applied, especially now in 2006. Part of it is based on my conception of the play, and how to put that conception across. So again it can be construed partly as critique, or simply as alternative.
The set was memorable, and John Heckel used it well to position actors to make arresting stage pictures. But it was also a trap, even apart from the metaphorical trap of the endlessly circular road of war. Not only did the steep ramps and heavy cart prove treacherous for the actors, but they dictated a style that at time could not take full advantage of the text.
The cart was quite a problem, especially on the steep ramp, even as the actors became quite adept and moving and anchoring it with a minimum of distraction. It almost toppled, taking Bernadette with it, on opening night, causing a change in the play’s famous ending---in which Mother Courage, her children dead, pulls the cart alone down the endless road. But oddly, the change actually added to the effect: now her two ghostly sons helped her part way, and then stood as she continued (though she did not go to the top of the ramp as planned, but left the cart at the foot and mimed the ascent. Even so, there was another almost-fall Saturday.)
But the steep ramps also made it difficult for two people to stand next to each other very easily. This may have been part of the intent, but to me it didn’t allow for variations and nuances in space and pace. There were scenes in which words exchanged quickly between two people in close proximity, with appropriate pauses and so on, could have added a great deal. But they were played, as often they had to be, with the actors separated—even on opposite sides of the ramp—essentially shouting at each other, and the audience. This tended to flatten the affect, and the effect.
But again, this may have been intentional, based at least partly on a “Brechtian” approach. But I don’t think it served the play. First of all, I don’t think imposing a “Brechtian” approach is really necessary any longer. The theatre is not what it was in Berlin in 1928. We’ve had decades of movies and television, as well as theatrical experimentation that has become mainstream. We understand different cues to different approaches now.