In an unjust world, is it possible to be good?
Such is the dilemma posed by The Good Person of Szechwan, Bertolt Brecht’s provocative modern parable about the tensions and alliances between virtue and ruthlessness.
This month, Washington University’s Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will present The Good Person of Szechwan as its spring MainStage production. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 16 and 17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 18, in Edison Theatre. Performances continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 23 and 24, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 25.
Tickets are $12 — $8 for students, senior citizens and Washington University faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets. Edison theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call the Edison Theatre Box Office at (314) 935-6543.
The Good Person of Szechwan tells the story of Shen Teh (junior Deepti Ramakrishnan), a kindhearted but penniless prostitute who, after all else in her village have refused, agrees to take in three weary travelers (Carrie Lewis, Judith Lesser and Daniel Malmberg). The travelers, however, are actually a trio of gods, who reward Shen Teh’s generosity with 1,000 silver dollars, which she uses to purchase a tobacco shop. Shen Teh’s newfound wealth, however, brings its own problems, making her a target for all manner of freeloaders. To protect her interests, Shen Teh invents a male alter ego, the hardnosed, unsparing Shui Ta.
“This is one of Brecht’s masterworks — a brilliant amalgam of musical theater, comedy, drama and politics,” said William Whitaker, senior artist-in-residence, who directs the cast of 27. “In Brecht’s apocalyptic vision, the earth is swarming with ruthless criminals and the desperate poor. The situation is so dire that the gods themselves have come down in search of one good person.
“In such a world, Brecht asks, is it possible to be good? Is evil somehow necessary in order to do good? His answers are not easy, but they resonate profoundly in our own troubled times.”
Brecht (1898-1956) first conceived of The Good Person of Szechwan in the late 1920s but wrote it primarily between 1939 and 1943, while living in Scandinavia and the United States during years of exile from Nazi German.
WHO: Performing Arts Department
WHAT:The Good Person of Szechwan, by Bertolt Brecht
WHEN: 8 p.m. April 16, 17, 23 and 24; 2 p.m. April 18 and 25
WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.
COST:$12; $8 for seniors, students and Washington University faculty and staff. Available at the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543
The play is widely considered a prime example of Brecht’s “Epic Theatre,” a concept he developed in opposition to traditional dramatic theatre. Where dramatic theatre appealed to feeling, Epic Theatre, Brecht argued, would appeal to intellect. Where dramatic theatre rendered the audience passive, Epic Theatre would rouse them to action. And indeed, the epilogue to Good Person explicitly challenges audiences to respond to the play through their actions.
The production also stars sophomore Matt Goldman as Wang the water seller, who narrates much of the action; and senior David Carp as the feckless pilot Yang Sun.
Set design is by senior drama major Alexis Distler. Costumes are by Bonnie Kruger, senior artist-in-residence. Lighting is by senior drama major Justin Wardell. The production also features original music by Jeffrey Noonan.