Theater Of War: Watch This Documentary

Love this doc.
Well, I thought I'd take a break from my endless theorizing of Richard III and instead do a review.

This has been one of my favourite documentaries since it came out nearly four years ago, but just last week I got to see it in my drama lecture, and I was reminded of how glorious it truly is.

Bertolt Brecht

Meryl Streep

Tony Kushner



Now that I've got that obnoxious fangirling off of my chest, let's summarize a bit while I cool down.

This documentary follows the making of a new theatrical production of Mother Courage and her Children, a play by Brecht that is probably one of his most well-known works overall. This particular production premiered at the Public Theater in New York circa 2008; it starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. It was directed by George C. Wolfe, had new scoring by the brilliant music theatre composer Jeanine Tesori (Caroline or Change, Violet, and, er... Shrek), and had a new translation by Tony Kushner, who of course wrote Angels in America.

With a crackerjack team like this, the opportunity to see the process and psychology behind the production that was the result of such an unholy alliance is welcome and treasured. It's especially fascinating to see Meryl Streep in rehearsal; we are so used to seeing her deliver a perfect performance in her films that it's quite jarring to see her fumble her lines or appear uncertain about blocking. Interestingly, she seems just as jarred by the presence of a camera in these private moments of rehearsal. She says she doesn't show anyone her process; 'It looks like bad acting', she says.

Even putting the novelty of this documentary aside, its subjects are constantly fascinating; everyone interviewed is erudite and clear.

With theatre people, it is very hard to ask them about their process and get answers that are thought-provoking and well thought out. The amount of insight in the discussions during Theater of War, from the daughter of Brecht himself to the props technician working on the cart for the 2008 revival, is stunning.

The mini-lecture on Marx that is intertwined within the 'let's put on a show' content gives the spirit of the play context, and Barbara Brecht-Schall (though we do not see her on film) fills in some of the blanks when it comes to the playwright.

Hearing Tony Kushner talk about his art and theatre is something that is very precious to me. I love Angels in America, and so learning about his process and his concept of language was quite enlightening.

I have no real criticism of this work, on account of I love it too much to be objective.


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