Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Mother Courage and Her Children
Quintessence Theatre Group
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Cameron's recent review of When the Rain Stops Falling

Janis Dardaris and Forrest McClendon
Photo by Shawn May
There is a moment in the second act of Quintessence Theatre's Mother Courage and Her Children where Bertolt Brecht's story, Michael Friedman's music, and Alexander Burns' vision come together to conjure a deliciously bleak magic. Sixteen years into the war, a frigid winter has left Mother Courage (Janis Dardaris) and her dwindling crew on the brink of starvation. The Cook (Forrest McClendon) begs for a meager bowl of soup by singing "The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth." McClendon's vocals hit like a punch to the gut, his sense of desperation is palpable, and the bizarre kick-line of steely faced soldiers is epic. The whole scene is filled with an energy and excitement that the production is unfortunately unable to maintain throughout.

David Hare's slightly irreverent translation of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children tells the story of a peasant merchant's attempt to peddle her wares and protect her children through the Thirty Years' War. First performed in 1941, Courage's relentless and inexorably grim journey still sends a powerful message about the life of the poor and the devastating impact of war.

Dardaris is superior as the title's stalwart old matriarch. Embracing the character's complexity—she is by turns unspeakably cruel and fiercely loyal—Dardaris delivers a performance that is hard to watch and impossible to turn away from. Leigha Kato shines as Courage's mute daughter Kattrin. Although she never speaks a word, Kato is responsible for the most excruciatingly intense sequence of the play. Gregory Isaac and Forest McClendon—the Chaplain and the Cook respectively—give strong performances and their acerbic dialogues are a highlight.

Unfortunately, there are some serious problems with the production. Much of the original score is tepid and the music occasionally slows down the action. There are a few moments when the first act feels downright boring. At the performance I attended, several cast members gave unpolished vocal performances and there were more than a few off pitch notes and awkward transitions. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that the accompanying musicians are behind the stage, unable to stay in sync with the performers (musical director Michael Pacifico was out at that performance).

Mother Courage and Her Children is a staggering work of art—relentlessly dark, unflinchingly bleak, and purposely disorienting. Burn's production offers a tantalizing glimpse into how a strong cast and original score can elevate the classic work. Unfortunately, the inconsistent composition and uneven musical performances end up being more distracting than enhancing.

Mother Courage and Her Children runs through November 6th, 2016, at the Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave. in Mount Airy, Philadelphia, 19119. To purchase tickets visit or call 215-987-4450.

John Basiulis (Ensemble)
Carlo Campbell (Ensemble)
Ashton Carter (Ensemble)
Tom Carman (Swiss Cheese)
Lee Cortopassi (Ensemble)
Janis Dardaris* (Mother Courage)
Leah Gabriel (Yvette)
Gregory Isaac (The Chaplin)
Leigha Kato* (Kattrin)
Forrest Mcclendon* (The Cook)
Daniel Miller (Eilif)
Ebony Pullman (Ensemble)
*Actor Appears Courtesy Of Actor's Equity Association

Alexander Burns (Director/Artistic Director/Set Designer)
Ellen Moore (Lighting Designer)
Jane Casanave (Costume Designer)
Sean Bradley (Fight Choreographer)
Kaki Burns (Choreography)
Michael Pacifico (Musical Director/Orchestration)
Shannon Kearns (Stage Manager)
Ida Bylund (Assistant Stage Manager)
Michael Friedman (Composer)

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