Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Mother Courage and Her Children and
Night of the Living Dolls

Annie Enneking (with hat) and
Heather Bunch

When Bertolt Brecht heard that the central performance in Mother Courage and Her Children brought the audience to tears, he was incensed. Brecht didn't want sympathy for his war profiteer main character and instead wanted to focus to be firmly on the horrors and folly of war.

Really, Brecht only has himself to blame for crafting such a well-rounded character who is at turns horrible, vicious and backstabbing, while at the same time driven by an overwhelming sense of survival. And this comes through in Frank Theatre's new production of the show. Led by a stunning performance by Annie Enneking as the title character, supported by a new translation by David Hare and music by Jonathan Dove, and crafted with invention and verve by director Wendy Knox and an excellent design team, this Mother Courage brings all of Brecht's rage to the stage, while at the same time letting us see the main character's motivations.

Set during the first part of the 17th century amid tumult of the 30 Years War, Mother Courage and Her Children travels with Anna Fierling, a camp follower who sells supplies, food and liquor to the mercenary soldiers battling out a conflict between the Catholics and Protestants. The reason for the war means little for the characters on and around the battlefield. They are there for the "glory" of battle —or the plunder they can find afterwards. We first see Anna traveling with three of her children, but as the play continues, the war takes one after another. She also occasionally finds friendship, but the overwhelming drive for her is in the money purse she wears at her waist.

Mother Courage starts slowly. While the production is a visual feast from the opening moments —her famous cart is a run-down affair, rudely made out of discarded bicycles —the acting feels, well, too Brechtian at the start. It comes into focus as her first child is killed as a spy by conquering soldiers. She must deny knowledge of her son, or share his fate. She does so with little hesitation, but Enneking lets us see the conflict that still rests within her. From here, the show goes from strength to strength. It ends with Enneking huddled over her daughter, who was killed while, for the first time of anyone in her family, trying to save someone else from slaughter. As Enneking says her goodbyes, she starts to remove her daughter's shoes, examines and even polishes them.

The balance of the cast is also strong, led by performances by Heather Bunch as Courage's mute daughter, Kattrin; and Emil Herrera as the Cook that befriends the family and even journeys with them for a time. Grant Richey is also good as a Protestant Chaplin who joins up the group as a way to avoid capture —and to provide a place for Brecht to make some not particularly veiled comments on religion and its role in conflict.

It would have been easy for Frank Theatre to draw direct parallels to today's world, but they wisely avoid any mentions of modern-day profiteers. It is clear that Courage, her children and everyone else in the show are playing roles that have been around since the beginning of human history —and ones that will continue as long as wars are fought. Mother Courage and Her Children may start slowly, but by the end it is clearly one of the strongest productions of the year.

Mother Courage and Her Children runs through Nov. 12 at the at the Pillsbury A Mill Machine Shop, 300 2nd St. SE., Minneapolis. For tickets and more information, call (612) 724-3760 or visit

Photo: Tony Nelson

Ballet of the Dolls Night of the Living Dolls

For more than 20 years, the Twin Cities dance company Ballet of the Dolls has gone against expectations, presenting shows that move far beyond the staid expectations of ballet. Their latest, Night of the Living Dolls, is a Halloween delight, full of funny and inventive moments that move by in a (mostly) breezy 65 minutes.

The dance follows a mad magician, Herr Speilzueg, whose fantastic dolls are the talk of his town. A wealthy widow, Frau Hexe, wants one. And when Spielzueg refuses to sell, she decided to sneak inside his shop and see if she can steal one herself. Things get strange from there, for it seems the magician has used his powers to transform people into dolls.

You can see where the dances are going from here. Each doll is made up in a different persona —a China Doll, a Clown, a Flapper, even a Ballerina —and Herr Speilzueg entertains himself by making the dolls dance for him. These segments are great fun, though they do drag a bit. Each dancer gets their own solo, and after watching two sets of seven dances, you feel like the widow's story is getting lost. Yet it all comes back by the end, with a bizarre and fitting end to the proceedings.

The nine dancers are all strong, especially Zhauua Franks as the Widow and Robert Skafte as the Dollmaker. They are aided by nice turns by the seven dolls, who inhabit each of their personas with aplomb.

Night of the Living Dolls runs through Nov. 5 at the Ordway Center, St. Paul. For tickets, call 651-224-4222 or visit

- Ed Huyck

Be sure to check the current schedule for theatre in the Twin Cities area

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