Let me begin by saying that I have great respect for Tonya Pinkins both as a theatre artist and a 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, now 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 next question became could you keep the Brecht text as it is and make a transplantation without too much interference with the adaptation? What would it tell us? This added another layer of experience to watching MOTHER COURAGE. 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.
Toward the end of the process I used a very strong word to characterize a potential end point for Mother Courage. The word was "delusional". This grew out of my reading of Brecht's notes, where he states over and over again that the point of MOTHER COURAGE is that she does not learn from the events of the play. In his notes he tells us:
"Misfortune in itself is a poor teacher. Its pupils learn hunger and thirst, but seldom hunger for truth or thirst for knowledge. Suffering does not transform a sick man into a physician. Neither what he sees from a distance or what he sees face to face is enough to turn an eyewitness into an expert."
Tonya objected to my use of the term "delusional" and we reworked the very ending of the play toward an image, which spoke to her idea of Mother Courage as "survivor." I was pleased with the final result. It was our last moment of collaboration. I felt it allowed the audience to see both possibilities in one image. This duality, for me, is at the very heart of the theatrical enterprise, leaving it up to the audience to decide for themselves what to make of this deeply contradictory character known as Mother Courage.