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Theatre Review: The Good Person of Sezuan

Shen-Teh (Marketa Valterova '00) awaits her wedding with a mixture of joy and dread.
By Anand Ramakrishnan

Based on the play by Bertolt Brecht

English version by Tony Kushner

Music by Elizabeth Swados

Directed by Kim Mancuso

With Anand Sarwate '01, Fred Choi '02, Ira F. Gerhardt '99, Adam Glassman '02, Marketa Valterova '00, and Stephen Larson '02

Presented by MITDramashop

Kresge Little Theater

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8P.M.

Tickets: $6 MIT/Wellesley students

MIT Dramashop's production of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Sezuan is a delightful illustration of the hardships good people have to suffer in a society that does not appreciate their altruism.

In the midst of the slums in the poor town of Sezuan, Wang the water seller and his fellow citizens are crying out for shelter and some bread to spare for their young. After much yearning and waiting, their prayers are finally answered with the appearance of the three "illustrious ones".

The "illustrious ones", played in the Dramashop production by Fred Choi '02, Ira F. Gerhardt '99, and Adam Glassman '02 , are sent to Sezuan in search of truly good people. To their dismay they find that only one such person exists and that's the local prostitute, Shen Te. In his classic play Brecht examines the nature of altruism, and comes up with pretty dire conclusions.

One of the strengths in The Dramashop's production is the refreshing acting. Put together over IAP, students worked hard and difficult hours, often practicing from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. everyday, according to the Assistant Director Puja Gupta '00. Anand D. Sarwate '01, in an excellent rendering of Wang, catches the audience's attention in the very beginning of the play. He runs up and down stairs, limps, and acts starved, all of which makes the play very vivid.

Shen Te, played by Marketa Valterova '00, performs a complex character very well. Along with the eyes and voice of innocence she expresses as Shen Te, Valterova reveals a coarseness, stubbornness, and even brazenness as Shu Tai, Shen Te's male alter ego who lacks the former's compassion and soft heart. Several times during the production Shen Te steps up before the audience and her true conscience speaks out, whether disguised or not.

Overall Valterova does a superb job making the audience feel pity when she is used by the locals, and anger when she stands up for herself as Shu Tai.

The audience felt a strong antipathy against the unemployed pilot Yang Sun, played by Stephen Larson '02. Larson plays the jerk of a husband with whom Shen Te falls in love. Arrogant and selfish, his behavior is in sharp contrast to Shen Te's. Larson makes the audience wonder, "What does she see in him?"

The Dramashop's set, light, and sound designers transport the audience to the middle of the poverty in Sezuan. Wang's sewage pipe domicile lies in a nook under the stage. On the stage, the scene changes from Shen Te's shop to the courthouse behind two finely crafted see-through doors, illustrated with a pattern of Sezuan. But the acting is by no means limited to the stage in front of the audience. Throughout the play, actors come from behind the audience, down the aisles and jump on to the stage.

The Good Person of Sezuan ends abruptly. Shen Te, after having fallen in love with Yang Sun, gets pregnant with his child. Having taken up her male identity Shu Tai to survive, she now gets in trouble. In a gathering just short of a riot, the play ends with Shen Te revealing her identity and the people of Sezuan accepting her back into the community again.

The play brings forth the issue of being good in a society that does not permit it. With the help of her crude alter-ego Shu Tai, Shen Te is allowed to survive. But in a society of poor, needy people, selfish desires drive out most of her goodness.

The play presents this valid issue, but leaves the audience with an open ending. After the "illustrious ones" judge her to be good, the people accept her back in society, but a question remains. How does one deal with this situation? Is it simply a tragedy we must accept? Or must we strive to change society? I left Little Kresge asking myself these questions the very queries that I think Brecht must have had in mind when he wrote the play.