Poet's Progress

From the Pit

When Mother Courage was wheeled onto Broadway six weeks ago its supporters warned against comparing the local production with Brecht's famous East Berliner Ensemble rendition. Now the play has closed and the same voices are shouting about the bankruptcy of American theater and its audience.

True, the Jerome Robbins version managed to suggest how great a play Mother Courage is. But for history's sake let it be said that the production was poor.

Brecht's executors showed dubious taste in allowing Mr. Robbins to direct the play; not because he was a choreographer but because he was an informer. Brecht took a good ideal of care to bring his personal and professional life into alignment with his political convictions. He himself appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and refused to name names. Robbins, however, testified with alacrity about the affiliations of others.

Robbins has shown no sense of the play's heroic proportions. He has turned Mother Courage into a wit; her retorts, her quips, the timing of her speech is better suited to Shaw or Wilde than to Brecht. Her power becomes verbal; its physical and emotional aspects fade. Minor characters, too were misdirected or badly cast. Ignoring Brecht's colorful human vignettes, Robbins simply instructed the peripheral figures to recite their lines (and they didn't even do that accurately).

The production's theatrical weakness, not its financial failure, is the real shame. Anne Bancroft contributes a valiant performance, and Eric Bentley's revised translation is more smooth and idiomatic than his previous efforts (while avoiding the Runyanesque inaccuracy of Blitzstein's Threepenny Opera). The least known of Brecht's musical collaborators, Paul Dessau, successfully broadens the tradition of Weill, Hindemith and Eisler. Unfortunately, the modified orchestra blares his tunes over Miss Bancroft's not-brassy-enough voice.

Bobby Darin has yet to release a 45 rpm version of the Theme from Mother Courage, but several other Brecht records are now on the market. Easily the worst is the original cast recording of Brecht on Brecht, a show in which they--as one critic put it--try to make a liberal out of Brecht. A record on the Riverside label, Bentley on Brecht, shows the playwright and his critical champion to good advantage. Mr. Bentley (once a concert pianist) does not have a smooth voice but it could be argued that Brecht didn't, either.

Folkways, if it can clear up some legal problems, plans to release an LP featuring Brecht's testimony in Washington. During the investigation of the "Hollywood Ten," Brecht admitted to seeking the violent overthrow of the Government. The Committee, which seemed to forget he was referring to the Hitler government, was considerably disconcerted.