There are two reasons to check out this look at the Public Theater’s 2006 staging of Mother Courage, and both revolve around collaborative duos. The first is the opportunity to actually witness the nuts and bolts of Meryl Streep and director George C. Wolfe’s rehearsals; what you briefly see of their creative process as they search for the heart, soul and guts of Bertolt Brecht’s monstrous matriarch is revelatory on any number of levels. The second is the film’s look back at the play’s legendary 1949 production in Berlin, personally overseen by the writer and starring his wife, Helene Weigel. Audio recordings, dozens of stills and an interview with the playwright’s former assistant make that revival come alive, turning into an invaluable Brecht-for-beginners lesson.
John W. Walter’s stabs at tying the play’s primal scream to a bigger picture, however, are too often reduced to sound bites (war is, y’know, bad), and his filmmaking can be downright clumsy. Cutting from college lectures on Marxism to theater employees laboring over sets is a clever counterpoint, yet any connection between the two is left untouched. Tony Kushner, who translated Brecht’s text for this production, and the Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, offer insight into Brecht’s significance, but why we need to see long montages of these two artists biking to work is a mystery.