Were MORE shots fired?

Colleen Curry

Shots could be heard going off in the distance on Main Campus on a recent Wednesday night.

Checking their cell phones and waiting for an update, residents of Sheehan and Sullivan Halls soon had their fears allayed when alas, the gunshots were accompanied by … singing.

Both war and song are breaking out this week at Villanova Theatre in the second play of the ’07-’08 season – one of the most ambitious plays the theatre has attempted in recent years.

“Mother Courage and Her Children,” the anti-war epic masterpiece by revolutionary playwright Bertolt Brecht, questions the ethical, political and economic implications of war.

Set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years War, Brecht combines elements of the past and present to universalize the fictional war, implicating any modern-day war in the atrocities “Mother Courage” illustrates.

Director Shawn Kairschner, acutely aware of the play’s implications, said when he chose to do the play last spring that he hoped it wouldn’t still be relevant to Americans this fall, alluding to America’s involvement in the war in Iraq and Kairschner’s desire to see it finished. The two-and-a-half-hour play follows Mother Courage, a quick-witted, cunning businesswoman ready to make her fortune now that war has broken out again.

Courage, played by Theatre Professor Joanna Rotté, is accompanied in her quest by sons Eilif (Charles Illingworth) and Swiss Cheese (Percy Abraham) and her mute daughter Kattrin (Kristen O’Rourke).

Crisis arises when Courage is forced to choose between protecting her children and pursuing economic opportunities of war.

Rotté masterfully owns the stage as Mother Courage, commanding the audience’s respect and attention in a role difficultly treading between heroine and villain.

Her fellow actors revolve around her every word, facial expression and physical innuendo.

What she lacks in mastery of lines or musical stardom she makes up for in absolute possession of the character.

O’Rourke, without a single spoken line in the drama, matches Rotté in the physical manifestation of every emotion Kattrin might feel as a passive, unwilling participant in a war that claims both of her brothers’ lives.

Capturing the audience’s sympathy and rising to heroine in the last scene, O’Rourke’s Kattrin steals the show precisely as Brecht intended her to do.

“Mother Courage and Her Children” is one of the most important and relevant plays Villanova has produced in the last few years, utilizing the freedom of an academic community to do risky, challenging work.

Kairschner’s skilled mix of both historical and modern props drives home the modern relevance of the play.

At times, the staging is clumsy, and the scene changes are slow enough to hamper the tempo of the drama.

The direction, however, easily makes up for it with touches that include the characters’ interaction with a live band and the arresting songs that catch the audience (and its conscience) off-guard.

In all, “Mother Courage and Her Children” overcomes minor flaws to bring an important topic to a college campus and its community.

Accompanying the two-week run was an academic colloquium on Nov. 16, a cast talk-back night on Nov. 27, and Speaker’s Night tonight.

As students, citizens and voters, every student should follow the sounds of gunshots and song to Vasey Hall this week to think about war and our roles in it at this critical time in our national and our individual histories.