Thunder River Theatre tackles war |

Thunder River Theatre tackles war

Trina Ortega
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage" examines how war creates its own culture. The TRTC production opens Friday, Feb. 22. This scene features (from left to right) Valerie Haugen, Patrick Murray, Jennica Lundin, Charlie DeFord, Kelly Ish, and Richard Lyon. (Trina Ortega photo)

CARBONDALE ” Thunder River Theatre Company has never shied away from tackling epic productions that cover controversial topics. And the upcoming production of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and her Children” is no exception.

The play opens Friday, Feb. 22, and runs through March 8. A preview performance is scheduled Thursday, Feb. 21.

Over the decades, the play has become regarded as one of the 20th century’s landmark dramas and a potent condemnation of war, according to TRTC Artistic Director Lon Winston. The subject matter, he added, is as relevant today as it was when it debuted in 1939.

“We have this huge weight on our shoulders here in the 21st century. Are we going to continue on the same march, down the same path we’ve been on? When you look at Brecht as a writer, he’s saying we need to make some changes. Isn’t that what this election is about? It’s relevant today,” Winston said.

Brecht’s play is set during the Thirty Years’ War, and it was first performed in Switzerland at the height of Nazi Germany and the onset of the Second World War.

“Mother Courage” delves into Brecht’s view of capitalism, and he uses the war to show how people feed off of each other to obtain their own goals.

The character Mother Courage is the playwright’s example of how capitalism can make people act differently in their drive to obtain money. Nothing is more important to Mother Courage, played by TRTC associate artistic director Valerie Haugen, than her mission to save and run her business. She is more concerned with that than with her children’s well-being.

Winston is quick to point out, however, that capitalism doesn’t mean “America,” but rather all cultures that profit off of war.

“This is not about America. This is about how every culture in the world feeds off war. It’s an interesting, intellectual dialogue.”

He said he hopes theatergoers walk away from the play thinking and talking about how war creates its own culture.

To help the audience think critically and objectively about his plays’ messages, Brecht developed the subgenre of “Epic Theatre” to present productions that could be viewed with complete detachment, a “distancing effect,” as it has come to be known. This style included revealing what happens in advance of the action to spare the audience from identifying with the emotions of the characters.

“Brecht’s distancing idea really allows us to sit back so we can look at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the way things come about,” Winston said.

Born in Bavaria to a Christian family in 1898, Brecht took a strong stand against anti-Semitism in his writings. He came to the United States in 1941 after fleeing Germany. Blacklisted as a writer during the McCarthy era, Brecht left the States and moved to Berlin in 1949, where he founded the famous Berliner Ensemble with his actress wife, Helen Weigel. He died in 1956 at the age of 58.

Brecht expressed his opposition to the Nazi and fascist movements in his most famous plays: “Mother Courage,” “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” “Galileo,” and “The Good Woman of Setzuan.”

Winston said there are many misconceptions about Brecht and his plays. “Mother Courage” is a comedy-drama with music, and TRTC’s production will feature original music written by Marie Gasau, who was the musical director for TRTC’s “The Fantasticks.”

“There’s humor, it’s witty, it’s ironic. People always say Brecht is depressing. It’s not depressing. It’s a lesson play,” Winston said.

“Mother Courage” features actors from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, including Charlie DeFord, Kelly Ish, Brad Moore, Gary Morabito, Logan Walters and Jennica Lundin.

In addition to Haugen, TRTC cast members include Lana Karp, Richard Lyon, Patrick Murray and George Soukup. TRTC’s Judy Benson is the prop and costume designer, and Brad Moore designs lights. Winston is director and set designer.

Curtain is 7:30 p.m. for all performances, except Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Student group rates are available for preview and matinee performances. Tickets and further information are available online at or by calling 963-8200.

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