A commenter may be right that I was premature in declaring a "consensus" nay-vote in the Mother Courage reviews. According to said comment, some defenders include John Simon (behind Bloomberg.com firewall), USA Today (where do they hide their theatre reviews?), and Time Out (still not available online). A significant one that is linkable is David Rooney's in Variety:
Is Streep a perfect fit for the part? On the surface, no. She's too refined and delicate to be a natural for coarsened survivor Anna Fierling, nicknamed Courage after she drove her merchandise cart through the cannon fire at Riga. But from the moment she comes into view, yelling "Retail!" as she hawks her wagonload of wares in song, Streep's Mother Courage is riveting. This is a full-bodied, swaggering characterization, emboldened by fierce intelligence, quicksilver emotional shifts, inexhaustible physicality and, most of all, sly humor...
With its inorganic, vaudevillian songs and key action stated in advance of each sharply differentiated scene, the episodic play largely defies fluid presentation. Wolfe and Kushner have nevertheless fashioned the ambling narrative into a reasonably trenchant three hours, albeit with some sluggish patches.
Another positive comes from blogger Joshua James.
On the other side, Jeffrey Eric Jenkins--Mr "Best Plays" himself--in his Seattle P-I column, take his place with the contrarians, including faulting Kushner's work:
For all of its relevance and sharp humor, however, it seems as though neither Kushner nor Brecht have found the sharpest focus for their argument. In this regard, the two great playwrights are less than ideal collaborators. Brecht's construction of this work includes in each scene a transaction (some are personal, others financial) and a lesson. Although Kushner smoothes the bumps of the original German, he also might have trimmed 30 to 45 minutes from the play, making those lessons more stimulating to consider.
Indeed, while the political bond is clear and Kushner bears Brecht's influence in many ways, the former is a notorious overwriter and the latter a taciturn man of "blunt tactics."
And speaking of blunt, here's one more nix, from ex-Times man Peter Marks in the WaPo:
Direct satirical hits, however, are scored only very sporadically in this high-profile, low-impact production. As directed by George C. Wolfe, the theatrically adventurous Brecht comes across as surprisingly toothless. The wait for something to catch fire onstage proves as futile as hanging around the box office hoping for last-minute seats.He also makes the fine point that Brecht's songs "overproduced" as "outright musical numbers," a point I hope to take up later.
I must say, I've noticed over the last week this site has been receiving an unually high number of hits, with yesterday a peak. I can only assume it's because this show has become topic-A in American theatre this slow August.
Let the debate rage on!