I hate to say this, but I'm coming around to the belief that maybe the work of Bertolt Brecht is no longer producible. And that makes nobody sadder than me, because I do love him and what he was trying to do. His "theatre of alienation" -- in which sentimentality is ruthlessly rejected in favor of intelligence -- is, in a world gone mad with "feelings," a blast of fresh air. But considering the number of Brecht shows I've seen over the years, and how few of them actually worked, Brecht might be one of those artists better on the page than the stage.
A new production of his Mother Courage and Her Children is now up at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Repertory Company. Everyone involved -- especially Laurie Klatscher in a heroic performance as the title character -- gives 150 percent. It's directed with enormous energy by John Shepard and features a new score composed by Pittsburgh musical genius Douglas Levine. Yet the evening can't be said to ever come together.
It's maddening, actually, because you want so badly for this still-shocking look at war, capitalism and survival to be as scalding you think it can be. Maybe Brecht's own intent to alienate us is, in fact, what keeps us from the promised land of theatrical pay-off. Maybe no company other than Brecht's original Berliner Ensemble could supply the specific sort of life experience and training the piece requires. And maybe contemporary theatrical tastes can no longer process Brecht's singular style. But whatever the reason, Brecht's plays are beginning to feel more and more remote.
This past summer saw a staging of this same play in New York with the combined talents of Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, George C. Wolfe and Tony Kushner. If it's any consolation to the fiercely talented folks at the Playhouse, that production met with limited success as well.
Mother Courage and Her Children continues through April 1. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445.