Tonya Pinkins Says Her Mother Courage Is "Too Big" for CSC Production

News   Tonya Pinkins Says Her Mother Courage Is "Too Big" for CSC Production
 
Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins, who announced she will depart the Classic Stage Company production of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children Jan. 5, 2016, while the show is still in previews, is leaving her role because she believes the part has been "neutered" and conceived through "the filter of the white gaze," according to the Associated Press.

The classic 1939 play, which has been reset to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, began previews Dec. 10 and was scheduled to officially open Jan. 7; that date will be rescheduled while a replacement for the Caroline, or Change star is found.

Pinkins, who won her Tony for her performance in Jelly's Last Jam, said she grew unhappy during technical rehearsals when she realized that the view of the heroine in this production "was of a delusional woman trying to do the impossible."

Tonya Pinkins
Tonya Pinkins

In a statement to the AP, the award-winning actress wrote, "My Mother Courage was left speechless, powerless, history-less and even cart-less.... Why, in 2015, in the arts, is there a need to control the creative expression of a black woman? Am I a dog or a slave to be misled so as to be controlled in my artistic expression?"

Artistic director Brian Kulick, who is also directing the production, spoke of his respect for the actress' work onstage and as an activist, adding, "I am so sorry that over the course of this production our views on Mother Courage diverged.... One goes into a theatre production with suspicions and hunches and a play slowly reveals what it might want to be. Tonya and I seemed to have started with the same basic impulse but reached two different vantage points."

Pinkins and Kulick, according to the AP, were unable to reach an agreement how the Congo would be conjured in the production. "As we kept working on the play," Kulick said, "this question and how to answer it became louder and louder to each of us to a point where I think we couldn't hear each other anymore."

"My Mother Courage is too big for CSC's definition," Pinkins added. "So it is best that they find someone to 'fit in,' because I cannot."

(Playbill.com has reached out to Ms. Pinkins for her complete statement.)

In Mother Courage and Her Children, "the indomitable Mother Courage follows one luckless army after another across a war-torn world in her canteen wagon," state CSC press notes. "She’ll do anything to hold onto her money-making wagon, even if it means the loss of her children, in this timeless tale of war and big business updated to the modern-day conflagration in the Congo."

Excerpts from Kulick's statement can be read below:

Let me begin by saying I have great respect for Tonya Pinkins both as a theatre artist and theatre activist and I am so sorry that over the course of this production our views on Mother Courage diverged. Theatre is a collaborative art and we both entered this production in that spirit but, sadly, we have reached an impasse. One goes into a theatre production with suspicions and hunches and a play slowly reveals what it might want to be. Tonya and I seemed to have started with the same basic impulse but reached two different vantage points. Tonya has articulated her point, let me try to articulate mine:

I had a basic question that I started this process with: Can you treat a Brecht play like we now treat a Shakespeare play? In other words, is a Brecht play as open as a Shakespeare text where you can set it in another time and place and see how the play speaks through the lens of that new setting? It seemed like the most direct analogy for a play like Mother Courage would be to set it in Central Africa in this century....

The result, for me, is that the play becomes haunted by three powerful ghosts: the ghost of the Thirty Years War (where the original version is set), the ghost of the Second World War (that prompted Brecht to write the play) and the ghost of what is still happening in the Congo today. These cumulative hauntings began to say something about war with a capital "W." It also allowed us to use the production as a way of reminding audiences that even though the plight of the Congo does not occupy the front pages of our newspapers, it is an on-going conflict that is still far from over and can use our attention and support.

As Tonya and I worked on the production the question became how specific does one have to become to evoke the Congo? Do we need place names, do we need to rewrite narration to make this leap or can it live in the realm of images, music and the given circumstances of the actors? I gravitated toward what I would call a more "open" approach, Tonya was longing for specifics. As we kept working on the play, this question and how to answer it became louder and louder to each of us to a point where I think we couldn't hear each other anymore....

*

The production features original music by Duncan Sheik, set design by Tony Straiges, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Justin Townsend and sound design by Matt Stine.

The Dec. 11-13 performances had been canceled due to vocal issues experienced by the Tony winner. A Dec. 17 performance was also canceled.

Pinkins is joined in the production by Joshua Boone, Curtiss Cook Jr., Kevin Mambo, Jacob Ming-Trent, Geoffrey Owens, Michael Potts, Deandre Sevon, Mirirai Sithole and Zenzi Williams.

To purchase tickets call (212) 352-3101, visit the theatre in person at 136 East 13th Street or go to ClassicStage.org.

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