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August 3, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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Theater of War


Theater of War [sic] is a documentary about the The Public Theater of New York’s production of Tony Kushner’s (of Angels in America and Munich fame) translation of Bertolt Brecht’s famous anti-war piece of political theatre Mother Courage and her Children. It follows them sporadically from the readthrough of the play all the way to its opening night in Central Park.

This film is not just a rehearsal journal of a noteworthy production. It is also an exploration of the history and style of Brecht the playwright. For those of you who don’t know, Brecht pretty much invented (read: stole, not that you’d know that after watching Theater of War) and codified the defining voice of theatre in the early-mid twentieth century. Reacting very directly against the rise of naturalism, he pushed all artifice to the fore to shake the audience into listening to his Marxist mental meanderings. Theater of War gives us a pretty accurate and in-depth, if rose-tinted view of Brecht’s life and work and counterpoints it well against the production under discussion.

While there is a lot to appreciate content-wise in Theater of War, the film itself, while well crafted, is not that cinematic. It seems that it would feel much more at home on the small screen. Also, its treatment of the theatrical process is, by necessity very for-dummies and while there is nothing wrong with that it does mean that the film often makes sweeping assertions that, while they are totally incorrect, they somewhat obfuscate key moments of the process.

Like most films supposedly about a niche subject, Theater of War, of course, isn’t really that much about the theatre. Its real focus, which it turns to in force, is the politics of war in the modern age. Meaning that we get quite a few reminders that War on Iraq 2—Electric Boogaloo was a bad idea, a sentiment so obvious that it becomes quite tiring quite quickly.

But the real joy of Theater of War is the interviews with Meryl Streep: she carries with her an almost supernaturally large ego. She leaves a pause at the end of every profound pronouncement she makes which is filled with “And I’m right because I’m Meryl Streep, don’t you know?”

Theater of War is largely a success. The topics it discusses are interesting enough on their own to make up for the flat tv-doco sytle and occasional needless political hysteria.

Theater of War
Directed by John W. Walter
With Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tony Kushner and George C. Wolfe

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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