Good Person of Szechwan
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C.
Until Sun Feb 24
Photograph: Pavel Antonov
Good Person of Szechwan
Time Out rating:
Not yet rated
Time Out says
Thu Feb 7 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
Theater. Revival. Drama
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Plays & Shows
66 E 4th St, (between Bowery and Second Ave), New York, 10003 Hide map/details
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa E.T.C. 66 E 4th St