Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN (La MaMa)

by Sarah Taylor Ellis on February 12, 2013

in Theater-New York

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THIS IS NOT YOUR TEXTBOOK BRECHT

While productions of Brecht’s plays are often weighed down by theatrical theory and didactic political messages, The Foundry Theatre jolts the audience to attention with Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Off Broadway review of Foundry Theater's THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN at La MaMaa fresh and vibrant production of The Good Person of Szechwan.

The Foundry Theatre plays free and loose with this translation by John Willett, which centers on a prostitute with a heart of gold. Although she is destitute, Shen Tei provides shelter for the gods who visit her hometown, and they reward her with a handsome sum of money. Shen Tei soon becomes a respectable shopkeeper and spreads her good fortune as she is able. Yet in order to survive in a cutthroat capitalist society, Shen Tei must occasionally disguise herself as a fictional cousin – businessman Shui Ta – and make ruthless corporate decisions.

How is one to maintain a moral core when the structures of capitalism demand competition rather than collaboration? How can one be a “good person” when Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Off Broadway review of Foundry Theater's THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN at La MaMaenslaved to a brutal economic system?

Under the incisive direction of Lear Debessonet, every character is sharply drawn: From the sex-deprived landlady Mrs. Mi-Tzu (Lisa Kron) to the seedy and greedy Woman (Brooke Ishibashi), from the macho and manipulative lover Wang (Clifton Duncan) to the cantankerous old lady gods (Vinie Burrows, Annie Golden, and Mia Katigbak). Every ensemble member in this motley crew has his chance in the spotlight.

Yet the heart of the play is the sensational chameleon Taylor Mac as Shen Tei. Mac flips fluidly between Shen Tei and Shui Ta, between a flashy red dress and a Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Off Broadway review of Foundry Theater's THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN at La MaMastructured suit, between a sultry glide across the stage in gold pumps and an authoritative swagger. If Bertolt Brecht set out to expose the construction of capitalism in Good Person of Szechwan, then this production – and Taylor Mac’s multifaceted performance – takes Brecht’s work a step further by emphasizing the problematically gendered structure of the system. If capitalism and gender are (co-constitutive) constructions, this production asks, then how can we imagine their construction differently?

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Off Broadway review of Foundry Theater's THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN at La MaMaThe assembly of the entire theatrical event is on full display at the quintessential home for experimental theater, La MaMa. Matt Saunders’ set, Clint Ramos’ costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting exude a homespun quality. Cesar Alvarez and Brooklyn-based indie band The Lisps add contemporary verve to the play; their hook-filled, genre-spanning music comments on the action with a decisive political punch.

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Off Broadway review of Foundry Theater's THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN at La MaMaWithout question, Good Person of Szechwan is frighteningly urgent in today’s economic climate. The Foundry Theatre’s production feels at once wildly radical and decidedly populist: posing challenging, open-ended political questions in an entertaining drama that should make a good person think.

photos by Pavel Antonov

The Good Person of Szechuan
a Foundry Theater production at LaMama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre
scheduled to end on February 24, 2013
for tickets, call 212-475-7710 or visit Ovation Tix

Sarah Taylor Ellis' Stage and Cinema Off-Off Broadway review of Foundry Theater's THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHUAN at La MaMa