Tony winner Tonya Pinkins (“Caroline, or Change”) will depart the Classic Stage Company’s production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1939 drama “Mother Courage and Her Children, on January 3, 2016 -- a move that has caused the opening of the production, which was scheduled for Jan. 7, to be delayed.
“Irreconcilable differences” is the term that would probably best describe the reason for Pinkins’s departure from the production. The actress reportedly clashed with the vision Classic Stage Company artistic director Brian Kulick put forward when directing the revival.
Kulick’s production moved the action of the play, which is normally set in the Democratic Republic during the famed Thirty Years War, to the Congo. While the story still followed the title character’s travels with her canteen wagon, portions of Brecht’s play were also cut.
In a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday, Pinkins claimed the part of Mother Courage had been “neutered” and “left speechless and powerless” after being created through “the filter of the white gaze.”
"A black female should have a say in presentation a black female onstage,” Pinkins wrote. “Why, in 2015, in the arts, is there a need to control the creative expression of a black woman? Am I a dog or a slave to be misled so as to be controlled in my artistic expression?”
She also criticized the revival for viewing her heroine as “a delusional woman trying to do the impossible.”
As for the change in setting, Pinkins called it no more than “a decorative motif.”
“My Mother Courage is too big for CSC’s definition,” Pinkins explained. “So it is best that they find someone to ‘fit in,’ because I cannot.”
For his part, Kulick acknowledged he was working with Pinkins on making the character of Mother Courage more of a “survivor.” He also explained that he attempted to conjure the Congo -- though Pinkins’s need for specifics made it so “this question and how to answer it became louder and louder to each of us to a point where I think we couldn't hear each other anymore.”
“I am so sorry that over the course of this production our views on Mother Courage diverged,” Kulick said, adding that he had “great respect” for Pinkins as an artist and activist.
“Mother Courage and Her Children,” which also features a new score by Tony-winning composer Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening,” “American Psycho”), began previews on Dec. 9 -- though a number of early performances were cancelled due to Pinkins’s vocal issues.
More performances, including the Dec. 31 performance, Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 performances, have also been cancelled due to Pinkins’s departure.
A replacement for Pinkins's role has yet to be named, though the company does plan on continuing on with the production.
For more information, visit www.classicstage.org.