A Good Person in Bad Times: Brecht on Broadway (Chicago)

Brecht’s Der Guter Mensch Von Setzuan (here translated as The Good Soul of Szechuan) has come alive on the Strawdog Theatre Stage in Chicago.  I’d quibble with the translation of “Mensch”, but I can’t quibble with the need to pour current philosophical-economic questions into a Brechtian crucible.  The drama is on stage through May 29 (check out this website for details of tickets and performances).   Here is the review taken from Time-Out Chicago:

Playful is perhaps one of the less common adjectives used to describe Brecht’s work. In Strawdog’s hands, though, the German dramatist’s 1943 parable, about a woman struggling to live up to the goodness the gods have seen in her, comes across like the thinking person’s Sarah Ruhl. Shen Te (Michaela Petro), a prostitute, is the only citizen in Szechuan willing to provide hospitality to three traveling gods on the hunt for virtuous mortals. Her reward is her own tobacco shop, but her generosity soon has her set upon by freeloaders; she’s forced to adopt an alter ego, male “cousin” Shui Ta, to play bad cop and protect Shen Te’s interests. When a self-interested suitor (John Henry Roberts) breaks Shen Te’s heart, Shui Ta threatens to take over for good.

Director Murray uses the 2008 translation by British playwright David Harrower (Blackbird, Knives in Hens), which accounts in part for this production’s contemporary feel. But the Strawdog touch has a lot to do with it as well. Murray addresses Brecht’s anti-artifice stance with a concertlike staging. The actors double as musicians for Mikhail Fiksel and Mike Przygoda’s Weill-punk-rock numbers and change clothes in full view; costume designers Aly Renee Greaves and Joanna Melville wittily outfit the cast in modern thrift-store chic. But style doesn’t outweigh substance: Brecht’s poke at the irrationality of charity in an economic system that rewards selfishness remains potent. Leading an engaging, creatively cast 18-member ensemble, Petro shines.

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