The Good Person of Setzuan
Annie Russel Theater, Winter Park FL
By Berthold Brecht
Translated by Wendy Arons
Adapted by Tony Kushner
Directed by Marianne DiQuattro
Staring Rina Sukhraj
In the old testament Lot argues with God, begging him not destroy Sodom and Gomora for the sake of just one other believer. Omniscient beings love to search for good people, and you’d think they would already know their whereabouts. Here the three Gods of China come seeking a good person, if one should exist, and if so, they will spare the city. Upon arrival they meet the rascally water bearer Wang (Emmi Green) who tries successfully to book them into a room anywhere. Eventually they end up in Shen Te’s (Sukhraj) room, and even though she’s a prostitute, the Gods decide to give her enough money to buy a small coffee shop. Before she can even open, all her mooching cousins move in and drive away what customers she might have. After this experience with small time capitalism, the Gods try a different tack and giver her enough money to build a factory, but she must now act like a factory owner. But this gives jobs and profits, and even though Te disguises herself, eventually a pregnancy spills the beans. The Gods are now happy and return to Peking to play Go with the emperor.
OK, it’s Brecht, so buckle in for the lectures and rather blunt political message. But the message isn’t just “kill the rich,” there’s a recognition that while harsh, capitalism can feed more people than idealism. The production relies on Asian theater conventions; oversized puppets are manipulated by a troop of actors, elaborate costume identify the key payers, and the lights, scaffolds and other stage machinery are open and emphasized. Dialog tends to be direct and unsubtle, with numerous lecture-like speeches and voice overs. Visually, this show keeps your interest even if the second act seems to go on forever. While Sukhraj’s performance is touching, the street wise Wang is my favorite character and as the trickster he knows all the angles. Sukhraj works best as the little lost girl, she’s less convincing as the factory boss. But either way, they all feel ordinary, and subject to fear and superstition. And in this town, divinity isn’t very useful. Afterall, they had money but couldn’t conjure up a Holiday Inn. They God’s truly have lowered themselves to our level.