That's Entertainment: With Kathleen Turner as Mother Courage, Arena Stage's Molly Smith Gives Brecht a New Spin

By Robert Simonson
27 Jan 2014

Molly Smith
Photo by Tony Powell

Was finding actors who could also play instruments, which will include accordion, trumpet, percussion, guitar, trombone, saxophone, viola and tuba, and master Leong's choreography a challenge?

"Absolutely!" she said. "Probably half of the actors I've worked with before, and half are newcomers. It's a wonderful combination. We probably have ten of the actors playing musical instruments, and some are playing more than one musical instrument. There's a kind of thrill about it. The actors are so versatile in this production. Each one is very strong as far as their musical capacity and their movement capabilities."

In preparation for the show, Leong held a couple of workshops to work on the movement pieces. The sequences vary in their artistic nature and practical intent.



"Sometimes it's a remarkable scene shift," explained Smith. "Sometime it's something going on in the war, sometimes its just something funny. We wanted to be able to show the war and the emotional landscape of the play in a different way."

There are 11 songs in the production, and prior to each, a combination of choreography and scenic and lighting elements shifts the staging from a scene of war to ostentatiously theatrical world of a bombed-out theatre.

2014 will be a busy year for Smith. Following Mother Courage, she will stage the world premiere of Lawrence Wright's Camp David, about the historic peace accord between Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Performances begin March 21 at Arena Stage. Soon after, she will make her Broadway directorial debut, re-mounting the 2013 Arena play The Velocity of Autumn, by Eric Coble and starring Estelle Parsons, at Broadway's Booth Theatre. Opening April 21, it will mark the third Arena Stage production to reach Broadway this season, after A Night With Janis Joplin and A Time to Kill

But before all that happens, there's the Brecht, which Smith describes in terms that may seem strange to theatregoers familiar with the playwright only through textbooks and the occasional earnest college mounting.

"The way we're going about it, it's about entertainment and pleasure," said Smith. "And that's really what Brecht wanted."