Any actor taking on the role of Mother Courage takes on not only the ghost of Helene Weigel, whose performance of the role made theatre history, but also the notable past of the Berliner Ensemble, which began with the casting for the 1949 Berlin production under Soviet patronage and amidst the devastation of World War II and the Holocaust. The model ensemble was forged from a ragtag assembly of survivors whose individual and collective histories—professional and political—are deeply embedded in the play. In these times of endangered privacy and civil liberties, the genealogy of this historic ensemble serves again as a challenging model to examine the role of the theatre in society.
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© 2008 New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology