What the Brecht: dog & pony dcs Courage brings occasionally confusing chaos to its Brechtian original.s Courage brings occasionally confusing chaos to its Brechtian original.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Tragedy + time = comedy, goes the saying. Courage, dog & pony dc’s chaotic but never dull gloss on Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, tweaks the formula: tragedy + time + free supply of Frank Booth’s favorite brew, Pabst Blue Ribbon + a rowdy band with a fetching fiddler and two accordions = well, sums may vary. If the show sometimes wants for coherence, it never wants for ambition. It’s entirely apropos that director Rachel Grossman’s frenetic “political theatre revival”—one that never erects a fourth wall to tear down; one wherein you’re issued a highly personal questionnaire upon entry; one in which a noncharacter identified in the director’s notes as the Audience Attendant remarks at one point, “I’m so sick of this fucking play”—feels more like a contrarian’s provocation than a considered argument. Stuffing the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop’s black-box space with merch suspended from cargo nets, and with a cast at risk of outnumbering the audience if every seat isn’t filled, Grossman and star Wyckham Avery (as Mother) honor the Brechtian principle of estrangement, willfully throwing nine kinds of competing stimuli at you at once to make sure not a single moment’s escapism is allowed to sweeten the lesson. You’re supposed to ponder the politics, not take emotional refuge in the story. Oh, you’re not familiar? It doesn’t much matter, but briefly: The setting is Europe during the Thirty Years’ War of 1618–1648. Mother Courage and her brood are war profiteers and/or hardworking stiffs just trying to make it through the day, dragging their cart across the killing fields to sell food and sundries to soldiers of any flag. (They’ll try to hawk their Seinfeld and yoga DVDs to you, too.) She’s unable to contemplate another way of living, though she knows this one will cost her all she values. But Brecht, and Avery, don’t want your pity—it’s beasts of burden like Mother who propagate an economic system that demands constant warfare to sustain itself. Three decades and change post-punk, Brecht’s use of songs as a bulwark against the audience’s emotional engagement in his plays seems bizarre. John Milosich’s original songs for this production, channeling Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits, and the great punk-turned-cowboy Jon Langford, are the most rousing things here, and when the company sings together, it delivers on the revival promised in the title. And despite the constant character-breaking, a couple of performances resonate powerfully enough to conjure a spell: Jessica Lefkow is a revelation as the pitiful prostitute Yvette, and Augie Praley evinces a battered humanism as the cook. Herr Brecht needn’t turn any grave-spins: Plenty of estrangement remains, never more jarring than when the Audience Attendant interrupts Mother’s scene of mourning for the first of her children to perish to speed the narrative along. But then, she’s got two kids left to go.