Though Mother Courage And Her Children is one of the most widely produced Bertolt Brecht dramas in regional theatre, a 1960 translation/adaptation of the work by Eric Bentley and Darius Milhaud, made its debut Jan. 19 at Jean Cocteau Repertory in lower Manhattan. Previews began Jan. 17. Due to audience demand, the show has added several performances stretching past the original March 28 closing date, to May 18. The Cocteau Rep company will also do 4 shows -- April 11-13, at Queens Theatre In The Park.
Bentley had already translated the play once when he and Milhaud, a member of the "Les Six" school of composers, collaborated on a new English version incorporating ballads, sea chanties and traditional melodies -- albeit with modern accompaniment. Back then, Milhaud was teaching at the Aspen Music School. He'd write songs to Bentley's lyrics and then send back piano-vocal reductions of the score for the librettist to work on. This new terse, colloquial version originally called for 14 musicians, though Cocteau Rep's version will use only four (under the guidance of musical director, Ellen Mandel). Milhaud died in 1974, so this staging is mounted by his widow, Madeleine Milhaud, who personally forwarded her husband's handwritten score.
During his lifetime, Milhaud taught such composers/musicians as Philip Glass, Dave Brubeck, William Bolcom and Ned Rohrem. Bentley, now 80, has made his mark as a playwright, critic, translator and editor. Fifty years separated his scholarly works "The Playwright As Thinker" and the recent "Thinking About The Playwright." In 1963, Bentley's first version of Mother Courage (with a score by Paul Dessau) was staged by Jerome Robbins on Broadway with Anne Bancroft.
Mother Courage makes its anti-war statement by examining an itinerant trader as she follows the carnage of Europe's Thirty Years War (1700s) in the hope of surviving and feeding her children. Other works by Bertolt Brecht include The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Galileo and The Three Penny Opera (with Kurt Weill).
Performing in Mother Courage will be 15 Cocteau Rep regulars, including Elise Stone as the lead. Robert Hupp, co-artistic director, will stage the piece. Robert Klingelhoefer designed the set, Margaret A. McKowen the costumes, Brian Aldous the lighting. The show will run in repertory with Othello, which begins March 14. For tickets ($19-24) and information on Mother Courage, which runs to May 18 at Cocteau Rep's home in the Bouwerie Lane Theatre at 330 Bowery, call (212) 677-0060.
In other Cocteau Repertory news, so successful was the company's recent production of Joe Orton's satire, What The Butler Saw, directed by Scott Shattuck, the play will return to the repertory May 23-June 15.
--By David Lefkowitz