Theatre Review: The Good Person of Szechuan

A tobacco shop, high-heeled deities and a fake moustache await you this month at the La Mama Courthouse theatre as a small yet talented team create the Brechtian tale of “good in a bad world”.

A small and intimate space is the stage for a new take of the parable of the young prostitute Shen Te, pronounced “good” by the gods, who attempts to fulfil this new title in a world that seems intent on rewarding only the “bad”.

Directed by Laurence Strangio, the play follows Shen as she attempts to remain good without being exploited by those would accept and take advantage of her goodness.

Despite her efforts, Shen is forced to create an alter ego Shui Tan, a male cousin whose sole purpose is to protect Shen and her interests, allowing her to be both good and to survive in a world that appears to punish goodness and reward greed.

The gods watch on, testing Shen to see if humans can indeed be good in the world they have created.

Originally written in wartime Berlin, the play wasn’t completed until 1943 while Brecht was in exile in America.

Despite tightening the performance – with hopes of Broadway that never eventuated – Brecht’s anger at the political and social landscape in which he wrote can be felt through an honest and well paced script.

Brecht raises questions the plot refuses to answer, and the characters often anger at the way the world works.

Strangio continues to make a name for himself in taking epic and intricate masterpieces and rendering them accessible and contemporary, bringing an artfully constructed script to life with a refreshing look at the seemingly simple idea of “being good”.

The script – translated by David Harrower – is carried flawlessly through a brilliant ensemble cast who deliver their roles with energy and dedication.

Worthy of note is Marc Lawrence, who’s sincerity and energy as the water-seller set an intriguing tone for the remainder of the performance.

In true Brechtian style this play demands much of the audience, with frequent participation – avoid the front row if you are shy – often used as comedic relief.

One is rarely allowed to forget you are watching a play.

There are moments, however, when the illusion of reality settles and the suspension of disbelief is allowed.

There are songs, puppetry, actors changing characters, openly moving props, and even dialogue with sound technicians.

At times there was a distinct sense of confusion in the audience over not only this but an intricate plotline.

A two-hour show with no intermission carries its own demands, but the cast and script managed to keep the performance energetic and engaging, with only a few minor flat moments.

The Good Person of Szechuan is an experience in itself, combining politics and performance as only Brecht can.

A solid delivery by a talented and experienced team renders this play an exciting and highly pleasurable night for all people, both good and bad.

The Good Person of Szechuan is playing at La Mama Courthouse Theatre in Carlton from May 8 to May 26.

Eloise Florence 

culture

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