Out & About
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Despite the grim struggles of war depicted in the Public Theater’s “Shakespeare in the Park” production of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” spirits were high Monday for opening night. The audience was eager to laugh and applaud throughout the three-hour performance in which Mother Courage, played by Meryl Streep, loses her three children. At the after-party at the Belvedere Castle, the cast and several hundred guests looked euphoric.
One had to wonder: Is this what the artistic director of the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, and the executive director, Mara Manus, had in mind when they planned a war-themed season of “Shakespeare in the Park”? In the playbill, the duo wrote, “Both of the productions in the park this summer speak to a country and a world at war; both create opportunities for thrilling dialogue about the state of our nation.”
Capable dialogists were on hand: Audience members included Charlie Rose, Ken Auletta, Lewis Cullman, John Guare, and Anna Deavere Smith, who was fresh from a heady summer at the Aspen Institute in Colorado where she was the inaugural Harman/Eisner Artist in Residence. The provocative material was there, too. In the hands of the highly capable cast, Tony Kushner’s translation gave the play many openings for discussion on the ethics of war, who profits from it, and whether peace is ever viable.
But there was also so much joy in the performance. Seeing Meryl Streep flirt and haggle could warm the coldest New York heart. The woman even plucks chickens. Although the entire play takes place on the road, in and around a rickety cart, Mother Courage filled it with domesticity.
The sense of place did a lot to remove audiences from disturbing thoughts. After all, the play is staged in Central Park, in an open-air theater surrounded by stars, trees, and chirping cicadas. The exterior of the theater — the circular wood structure dotted with windows selling T-shirts, brownies, wine, and soda — suggests a summer camp, not a didactic lecture hall. And then there was the celebrity spotting, which was quite easy because the actors grouped in clusters every few feet. Any talk of war wasn’t happening on this night. Perhaps tomorrow.