Meryl Streep is unforgettable in Mother Courage and Her Children, Tony Kushner’s adaptation of the Brecht masterpiece, presented by The Public Theater/NY Shakespeare Theater in Central Park during summer 2006. Filmmaker John Walter’s earlier documentary, How to Draw a Bunny, explored the psychological ramifications of the life and art of Ray Johnson. His new movie could easily have been reduced to a star vehicle for Streep and Kevin Kline. Indeed, watching these consummate actors, for the most part during rehearsals under George C. Wolfe’s direction, is a lesson in focus, dramatic analysis, and the art of acting at its finest.
But for Walter, the play is but a jumping off point for a compelling look at Brecht’s motives and politics; the film includes the playwright’s famed (and famously clever) testimony before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, in 1947, the day after which he quit the United States. Theater of War is about theater and war, capitalism and Marxism, consumerism, greed, the maternal instinct, the postwar anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, and one literary genius’s ability to make art from them all.