NEW YORK — There must be a war on. Every time there’s a war on a gang of actors and producers get together and put on Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children because they think it is an anti-war play.
As I walked briskly down the path toward the Delacorte Theater at about 6:30 of a cool August weekday morning last week I noticed a line of sleep-ridden, bedraggled figures a quarter of a mile in length along the path. They could have been homeless derelicts, except that most of them were young and well furnished with air mattresses, laptops, I-pods, Blackberries, and text-messaging cell-phones. Half of them were still asleep, the other half were groggy and trying to organize themselves.
I was on my way to the Seniors’ Bench in front of the theater where, if I was lucky, I would be rewarded with two “free” tickets to the Public Theater’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children that evening. The production was in its fifth day of previews and not scheduled to “open” for three days. There is much theatrical buzz about this production because it features celebrity stars Streep and Kline, and celebrity writer Tony Kushner — author and prophet of the gay theatrical world since his epic six-hour play Angels in America.
Oh, the ironies, the ironies! Piled one on top of the other like the apartments along Fifth Avenue and Central Park West looking down on the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Who would have believed that in New York, one of the richest cities of the world, the center of capitalism in America, the center of capitalism in the world, where apartments sell for $1,000 per square foot and more, where statistically every tenth person is a millionaire (at least in real estate values) — who would have believed that a play written by the poet of the proletariat, by an unrepentant communist till the day he died, the recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, would be playing in a million dollar production in this jewel of a park.
The ironies seem positively Brechtian in their political cynicism and layered hypocrisies, starting with Brecht himself. Born into the high bourgeoisie, his father a director of a paper factory, Brecht was pampered all his life by his parents and pretty little housemaids who encouraged his sexual development. He wore the finest hand-made clothes, smoked the best cigars as an adult, and as soon as he gave up his adolescent imposture of the tough, impoverished, bohemian poet, he lived comfortably by exploiting his mistresses and wives, and lived the last eight or nine years of his life like a prince, or rather a commissar, behind the Iron Curtain. He scorned the company of the working classes, never worked a day of his life as a laborer and was never poor. Perhaps Marieluise Fleisser, one of Brecht’s many, many mistress/collaborators, said it most clearly: “In the final goal he wanted to help human beings. But in daily practice he was a despiser of humankind.”
THE AUDIENCE FOR THAT EVENING’S PERFORMANCE, about 1,800 people, appeared not to be members of the proletariat either. As they lay or stood along the path waiting to be rewarded with a pair of free tickets, they appeared prosperous, well equipped with electronics, and to be members of the leisure class since it was a work day and the working classes were rushing to get to work on time. Even though the play was about the little guys of the world, the poor and the exploited, none of those were recognizable in that evening’s audience as it sprawled on the park grass.
If the proletariat was not present in the audience to hear this political wake-up call to the working classes of Germany and Europe in 1939, it was even more absent amongst the movers and shakers of this production, who were, according to the New York Times, Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, George C. Wolfe, the play’s director, and Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, millionaire film stars. Without the latter, it is doubtful that the play would have been mounted in this expensive venue. Ordinarily Mother Courage, almost never produced commercially because of its heavy-handed political message, is seen in sparse off-Broadway productions or university theaters where costs can be kept down.
This production has a cast of 25 actors, 7 musicians, 6 directors, 5 designers, and approximately 90 members of the production staff. How much must that cost for a New York City production with gunshots, explosions, actors falling off ramparts, theatrical rain and snow, among other spectacles. We’re talking in the hundreds of thousands, aren’t we? Cheaper than the Thirty Years War perhaps, but not by much.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?