Mother Courage is of two minds.
She loves war because she profits from it. She hates war because it threatens to take her children from her.
The iconic figure and all her contradictions will come to life in The Rogue Theatre's production of Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children," which previews tonight.
While Mother Courage was conflicted (as well as greedy and, some would say, heartless), Brecht was not.
Brecht wrote the play at the dawn of World War II, after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The playwright was in Switzerland, having fled Nazi Germany some years before.
He gave the play distance from those years - he set it in a 12-year period during the 30-year war that raged across Europe from 1618-1648.
But there was no mistaking that "Mother Courage" was written to address the rise of the Nazi party and was an indictment of war.
It became what has been called the most powerful anti-war play ever written.
Director Joseph McGrath finds it to be more than that.
"I think it's about capitalism more than war," said McGrath of the play.
"I think war becomes a metaphor for the marketplace. (It's about) how we handle the poor and the distribution of wealth."
And that's what makes "Mother Courage" so timeless, he added.
"Those will always be with us."
Mother Courage has a traveling canteen. As war rages, her sales soar.
She also has three children who, one by one, fall victim to the war.
Mother Courage is not an honorable character and Brecht, by design, does not take a sympathetic approach to her or her losses.
But for all of Brecht's alienation techniques, it's impossible to walk away from "Mother Courage" without a deep emotional reaction.
One of the things that gives the play its impact is how Brecht chose to tell the story, said McGrath.
"He doesn't give us the fat cats," he said. "He puts the proletariat on stage and shows how they participate in their own subjugation. What he's doing is saying 'this is you, and do you really want to participate in this misery?'"
As McGrath and his cast rehearsed the play, the school shootings in Newton made him think of the playwright's message.
"Brecht says we are responsible for what we participate in," he said.
"The minute the shootings happened, I thought of how we participate in the guns in our society, and about mental health care in our society. … Brecht is going to be relevant for centuries because he says we have to take responsibility for the situations that confront us."
Sounds pretty bleak, doesn't it?
Not so, says McGrath.
"Humor is the most important thing you can bring to this play," he said.
"You need to tease out the humor and keep the sense of irony working."
Brecht, he says, gets the need for the humor.
"It's sort of like a preacher telling a story with humor," says McGrath.
"Brecht liked to tell stories, sing songs, tell jokes. He really likes the kind of vaudeville nature of the theater. He admires sporting events; he wants the theater to be as interesting and popular as sporting events. I would love that."
If you go
• What: The Rogue Theatre's production of "Mother Courage and Her Children."
• By: Bertolt Brecht, adapted by David Hare. Original music is by Tucson composer Tim Blevins.
• Director: Joseph McGrath.
• When: Preview is 7:30 p.m. today; opening is 7:30 p.m. Friday. Regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 27. There is an additional matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.
• Where: The Rogue, 300 E. University Blvd. in the Historic Y.
• Tickets: $20 for Thursday performances; $30 for Fridays-Sundays. $15 student rush tickets are available 15 minutes before curtain with student ID.
• Running time: About 2 hours 35 minutes, including one intermission.
• Cast: Matt Bowdren, Dani Dryer, Connor Foster, Marissa Garcia, David Greenwood, Craig Howard, Christopher Johnson, Ryan Parker Knox, Cynthia Meier, David Morden, Steve McKee, Dylan Page, Lee Rayment and Renie Sweeney.
• Et cetera: Preshow music starts 15 minutes before curtain; you don't want to miss that, if possible.