Good Person of Szechwan

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Photograph: Carol Rosegg
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Good Person of Szechwan
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C., East Village Thursday February 14 2013 19:30

Good Person of Szechwan. Public Theater (see Off Broadway). By Bertolt Brecht. Dir. Lear deBessonet. With Taylor Mac, Lisa Kron, David Turner. 2hrs 45mins. One intermission.

Good Person of Szechwan: in brief

Director Lear deBessonet offers a piquant, unexpectedly charming account of Bertolt Brecht’s 1943 problem play about goodness in a world of limited resources. The very likable cast is led by the superbly beguiling Taylor Mac.

Good Person of Szechwan: theater review by Adam Feldman

At La MaMa earlier this year, Lear deBessonet’s staging of Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan was a garden of down-to-earth delights. (For our review of that version, see below.) Now transferred to the white-hot Public Theater, it bursts into even more fragrant bloom, jelling without losing its exuberant sense of mess. I have never seen a production of Brecht so flat-out pleasurable as this one.

The staggeringly charismatic Taylor Mac gives a virtuosic star turn as the gold-hearted whore Shen Te (and her cruel male alter ego, Shui Ta), while the supporting actors—led by David Turner and Lisa Kron—deftly tease out the play’s twists of moral instruction. In Brecht’s rigorously topsy-turvy catechism, goodness in a vicious world is impossible—or rather, it can only be achieved by a kind of theatrical magic. Lucky for us, that’s just what this charmingly pointed parable delivers.—Theater review by Adam Feldman

THE BOTTOM LINE Taylor Mac dazzles in a tough yet joyful revival.

[Note: The following is a review of the version of Good Person of Szechwan that played at La MaMa in February, 2013.]

Theater review by Adam Feldman. La MaMa E.T.C. (Off Broadway). By Bertolt Brecht. Dir. Lear deBessonet. With Taylor Mac, Lisa Kron. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

Charm is not a quality one necessarily expects from a Bertolt Brecht epic, but it is a defining feature of the Foundry Theatre’s piquant new revival of Good Person of Szechwan. Brecht’s 1943 problem play, set in rural China, examines the challenge of being generous in a cruel world of limited resources. Three gods (incarnated by local stage eminences Vinie Burrows, Annie Golden and Mia Katigbak) have embarked on a Diogenes-y quest for a single enlightened soul in the darkling moral landscape. The kindly prostitute Shen Te—played by the superbly beguiling Taylor Mac, who enters exhaling rose petals—may be their best hope, but as she puts it: “How can I be good when everything is so expensive?

Sure enough, Shen Te is an easy mark for moochers and chiselers, plus a handsome scoundrel named Yang Sun (Clifton Duncan). To avoid financial ruin, she dons a pin-striped suit and handlebar mustache to pose as her fictional cousin, the cutthroat capitalist Shui Ta. (The workers at his tobacco sweatshop wear Foxconn-style white uniforms.) Brecht thus sets up what appears to be a simple division of spiritual and practical virtues—but, as this production makes clear, the binary is hardly strict. Good Person of Szechwan’s reputation for didacticism is belied by Lear deBessonet’s agile and engaged production, which seems genuinely curious about Brecht’s cutting questions rather than smug about any imagined answers. And deBessonet leavens the text’s complexities with flourishes of homespun theatrical imagination: original songs performed live by the Lisps, rows of cardboard shanties, amusing costumes, and a very likable ensemble led by Lisa Kron (in a pair of masterful comic turns, as Shen Te’s sour landlady and Yang Sun’s long-taloned Long Island mother). The result is an entertainingly serious foray into Brechtland, with the fabular tempered by twinkles of the fabulous.—Adam Feldman

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam

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Venue name: Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C.
Contact:
Address: 66 E 4th St
New York
10003
Cross street: between Bowery and Second Ave
Transport: Subway: F to Lower East Side–Second Ave, 6 to Bleecker St
Price: $56.50–$71.50
Event website: http://publictheater.org