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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Off the Wall Stages Intense 'Mother Courage'

Theater Review

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Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage is an unflinching look at the horrors of war. No stranger to a challenge, director Dale Gutzman attempts to fit the intensity of this drama into one of Milwaukee's most intimate theater stages. Yes, there's a set, a lighting scheme, costuming and makeup, but in a space as small as Off the Wall's studio, all you really see is the drama written into the faces of the ensemble. In a space that size, the intensity of war feels visceral and apocalyptic.

Brecht's play was set in the 1600s, but it could be anywhere. As the saying goes, "War never changes." The production is a jagged patchwork of different moods that don't always work. Marilyn White plays Mother Courage as perpetually exhausted, ready to lash out in defense at any moment. It's a tough role, but White handles it admirably. The dark, gradual transformation of Liz Mistele as Mother Courage's mute daughter was one of the production's most vivid revelations. As a reluctant chaplain, David Flores provides another standout performance. There's genuine compassion in Flores' performance, which spins into a brilliant, dark bit of musical comedy as he leads the audience in a drunken chorus. It's one of composer Jack Forbes Wilson's better compositions for the production.

Wilson's music pulls the whole show together, even when it threatens to compromise the darkness. But as good as the music could be, the production's silent visual moments felt stronger than any other element.

Off the Wall Theatre's production of Mother Courage runs through April 3. To reserve tickets, call 414-327-3552.