Photo by Caroline Daniel
“Mother Courage” is a stark and moving depiction of how ordinary citizens cope with perpetual war.

By Marcy Stamper

Local audiences have a chance to see an anti-war drama that’s one of the classic works of 20th-century theater when Seattle University brings its production of “Mother Courage” to The Merc Playhouse on Saturday (Dec. 2).

Written by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, “Mother Courage” is a stark and moving depiction of how ordinary citizens cope with perpetual war, including making a living off the soldiers and combat.

The story follows Mother Courage, who runs a canteen selling food, liquor and clothes to soldiers fighting the Thirty Years’ War, which raged across Europe in the 17th century, said Ki Gottberg, who plays the title role and is also artistic director at The Merc. As European nations battled over religious, territorial and commercial issues, the war affected most of the continent.

Mother Courage follows the troops, switching allegiances as necessary to support her three children. “She’s trying to keep her family together,” said Gottberg.

“‘Mother Courage’ is considered Brecht’s masterpiece. He wrote it in 1939 as a commentary on the situation in Germany, but set it in another time to look at war from a non-present-day perspective,” said Gottberg. “Brecht meant it to be relevant to the present.”

The production comes to the Methow Valley from Seattle University, where Gottberg is a professor and chair of the Department of Performing Arts. The department chose the play as part of a season that looks at the political landscape, she said. The play has about 20 characters — soldiers, townspeople and peasants, and a prostitute — played by 12 actors.

“Mother Courage” shows the impact of war on ordinary people in a way that’s at times brutal and unrelenting, but it also contains considerable humor. “It’s very exciting, dramatic and quite funny — darkly funny,” said Gottberg.

Music included

The play is part of Seattle University’s touring season, and they’re bringing about 100 props, parts of the set, costumes and make-up for the Merc production. “Mother Courage” just finished a two-week run in Seattle, but will have just one performance in Twisp.

Music is integral to the play, and there’s a live band onstage, with an accordion, washtub, percussion, guitar, French horn and cornet. The musicians move around the stage with the actors. “Much of the action is conveyed through the language of songs — it’s not like a regular musical,” said Gottberg.

Live music was also part of Brecht’s original, composed by Brecht’s frequent collaborator Kurt Weill, but Gottberg and director Rosa Joshi commissioned original music for this production by Casey James. James is an award-winning composer who also wrote the music for “The Last Salmon,” an original play produced at The Merc last year.

“Mother Courage” has just one performance at The Merc, on Saturday (Dec. 2) at 7 p.m. Reserved seats (in the first three rows) are $18 for adults; general admission is $16. The play is free for youths 18 and under (unless they want a reserved seat, which costs $7). Tickets are available at and at the door.

In addition, there is a special opportunity for students to enjoy a free dinner at The Merc before the show, with roasted hot dogs and s’mores made over fire pits behind the theater. Students may also get to meet some of the cast and crew. To attend the dinner, email Merc Executive Director Missi Smith at

The audience can stay for a “talk-back” with director Joshi after the show. “It’s a really exciting show — there’s a lot to think about,” said Gottberg.

In addition to the wartime setting, “Mother Courage” contains language for mature audiences.