Bertolt Brecht's stage version of THE MOTHER
is drawn from Maxim Gorky's 1905 Novel of the same title. Gorky's Novel
was based heavily on the actual events of a woman in Tver, Russia who was
accidentally drawn into revolutionary activity by her son during the Russian
Revolution of 1905.
For his stage adaptation, Brecht added a number of
post-1905 events to the story (most of which we have edited back out for our
rendition) taking the character of "The Mother" and her
radical travails all the way up to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Brecht set out writing THE MOTHER in 1930,
completing it in 1931. This play began what many Brecht scholars refer to as the
phase" of his writing that would last the rest of his career.
Brecht considered it to be the most radical of his "Lehrstucke"
("learning plays") and proudly proclaimed it to be "a
piece of anti-metaphysical, materialist, non-Aristotelian drama."
THE MOTHER was first produced at Theatre-am-Schiffbauerdamm (where Brecht's
Berliner Ensemble Theatre stands
today) in Berlin on January 17, 1932 under the direction of Emil Burri with
music by Hanss Eisler. The debut of the play was deliberately
chosen to coincide with the thirteenth anniversary of the death of the German
revolutionary leader Rosa Luxemburg.
Brecht's first opportunity to have his work performed
in North America came
when the New York City-based Theatre Union agreed to produced THE MOTHER
in 1935 (interestingly enough, our theatre's namesake Buffalo actor/playwright Manny Fried was
offered the role of the male lead in this production, but had to pass on it so
that he could return to Buffalo). Brecht eagerly traveled to New York to
participate in the rehearsal process, but was outraged to discover the Theatre
Union had contracted resident playwright Paul Peters to drastically re-write
The play's premiere came at a time when Hitler's Nazi
Party was steadily increasing in power. During this run of THE MOTHER,
Nazi officials actually arrested the actor playing the male lead, Ernst Busch,
just to prevent that evening's performance!
This was the last of Brecht's works
to reach production before Hitler banned all performances of his plays in
Germany in 1933.
Internal differences within the
Theatre Union as well as numerous artistic differences between author and
director turned Brecht's American debut into a fiasco.
to Europe soured against the American theatre scene. In fact, when he
later fled Europe to United States to escape Hitler's invasion of Norway in
1940, Brecht made a point of settling in Los Angeles -- still refusing to have
anything to do with New York City!
Years later after Hitler's demise and Brecht's
eventual return to Berlin, THE MOTHER was one of the first of his own plays Brecht
chose to stage, directing it personally in 1951 at the Berliner Ensemble
Because of its extremely overt political exhortations
-- with explicit calls for Revolution and Communism, it's unabashed attack on
exploitation, religion, and war, and its glorification of the Bolshevik
Revolution -- THE MOTHER was looked on very favorably by Soviet-style
governments enjoying extensive productions in the Eastern Block throughout the
Cold War Period.
Perhaps for the same reasons, the play has been
grossly under-produced in the West where theatres chose to focus on Brecht's
more politically vague and ideologically less threatening works like MOTHER
COURAGE, THE GOOD WOMAN OF SZECHWAN, and THE CAUCASIAN CHALK
Nonetheless, THE MOTHER did
enjoy a surprisingly mainstream production at London's prestigious National
Theatre in 1986, as well as Bernard Sobel's 1991 Paris rendition, a version by
NYC's Irondale Ensemble Project in 1997, and a subsequent Off-Broadway revival
Subversive Theatre first presented THE MOTHER
as a staged reading for our annual May Day Series in 2005 under
the direction of our Founder & Artistic Director Kurt Schneiderman.
Since that time, Kurt has continued to envision possibilities for a full
production of this inspiring work and he is thrilled to at long last have the
opportunity to put those ideas into action.