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Berkeley Voice, Monday September 8, 2003



- Jack Tucker


Shotgun Players current production of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" is one of those uncommon experiences in which every element -- story, cast, setting, mood -- merge into an epiphany of epic theater.

This is all the more remarkable in light of the spare, non-epic way it is staged: No overwhelming sets. No throngs of players. And yet it expands through sheer cohesive energy into a universal force.

Shotgun's "Mother Courage," the David Hare translation, plays in late afternoon (4 p.m.) in the small amphitheater in John Hinkel Park. It will continue on Saturday and Sunday afternoons through Sept. 14. And it's free.

A relatively small cast of nine, directed by Patrick Dooley, performs on the bare ground of this wooded hideaway on Southampton Avenue off Arlington Boulevard in the Berkeley hills. The set by Michael Frassinelli, except for nature's contribution of the trees, is minimal: a movable tent and Mother Courage's peddler's cart.

The requisite Brechtian alienation effect is preserved in this production, but with a difference. The actors step out character to sing a song or deliver a didactic speech directly to the audience. Emotion intrudes and the mixture is powerful.

The performance begins with thin threads of plaintive music: Henri Ducharme on accordion; Josh Pollock on "everything else" as the program adds in a typical Shotgun touch -- percussion, to be exact.

And then the magic begins to appear and grow until it envelops this hidden glen.

Trish Mulholland is magnificent in her earthy, bravura interpretation of Anna Fierling (Mother Courage). Leading an episodic gypsy life through several European countries during the Thirty Years War with two sons and a mute daughter in tow, she earns her peddler's living from the very conflict she abhors.

Shrewd, stolid and plodding, she loses all of her children to violence, but continues her business, often switching sides in the war. The adult children are played to good effect by Andy Alabran (Swiss Cheese), Leith Burke (Eilif) and Gwen Larsen (Kattrin, the daughter).

Except for Mulholland and Larsen, all actors play multiple parts. In their principal roles, Roham Shaikhani as the cook and John Thomas as the chaplain are particularly effective, generating most of the humor of this sweeping, moving, thoughtful, pocket-size antiwar epic.

To all, a rousing "Well done!"

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