THEATER OF WAR (director: John Walter; cinematographers: John Walter/Felix Andrew; editor: John Walter; music: Robert Miller; cast: Meryl Streep (Herself), Kevin Kline (Himself), Tony Kushner (Himself), Carl Weber (Himself), Jeanine Tesori (Herself), Jay Cantor (Himself); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nina Santisi; White Buffalo Entertainment; 2008)
“The delights were in seeing arguably America’s greatest actress, Streep, going through the clunky process of rehearsing while telling us how she interpreted her role.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An intellectual but not always satisfying doc on politics and art directed by John Walter (“How to Draw a Bunny”), as it tries to do too much and becomes unfocused (going from Brecht to Marxism to Streep to rehearsals to war protests, without doing enough justice to each). It covers the 2006 rehearsal for the anti-war play Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), the East German genius Marxist playwright, who claimed wars were driven more for profit than ideology. In 1947, when trying to remain in America after exiled from Germany, Brecht was grilled by the HUAC leading to his eventual departure for East Berlin. The play that was performed in a post-war bombed-out Berlin in 1949, has the rehearsals for its latest version take place in the Newman Theater of the Public Theater in Manhattan for a free play that will be performed in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater.
It makes for a fascinating watch to see how Meryl Streep prepares for her role, how director George C. Wolfe views it from the audience’s prospective and how the American playwright Tony Kushner gives it an updated interpretation. The artists search to find the heart and soul of Brecht’s play through the play’s angst-driven flawed main character Mother Courage (played by Streep), a merchant peddler during the seventeenth century’s Thirty Years War in Northern Europe, who is against having her sons partake in the war but doesn’t mind making a profit from it.
It also revisits the original production that starred Brecht’s second wife Helene Weigel, through use of audios, stills and interviews with Brecht’s former assistant Carl Weber. Walter, less successfully, tries to send a message that all wars are bad and uses mainly the bungled Iraqi War to make his case that Brecht and the modern peace activists are on the same page (as both note that an indifferent public and greedy businessmen allow for wars).
The delights were in seeing arguably America’s greatest actress, Streep, going through the clunky process of rehearsing while telling us how she interpreted her role by becoming “the voice of dead people” and what acting means to her. New songs to be sung by Streep were created by Jeanine Tesori.
REVIEWED ON 2/28/2010 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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