“Alienation” does not always mean “unpleasantness,” and yet that is the general consensus among lousy directors of Brecht. For these people, if it’s fun, it’s not being done right. What a delightful revelation, then, to discover the Foundry Theatre’s Good Person of Szechwan. This is a carnival of a production that, as the playwright dictates, is always disabusing the audience of the notion that they are watching real people in real situations, but nevertheless manages to entertain—and entertain thoroughly.
When three gods (Vinie Burrows, Mia Katigbak, and Mary Shultz) visit Szechwan in search of one good person, a local Water Seller (David Turner) points them in the direction of the prostitute Shen Te (Taylor Mac). Impressed with her selflessness, they reward her with one thousand silver dollars, a gift that quickly proves a burden when an endless stream of freeloaders—including the suitor Yang Sun (Clifton Duncan)—emotionally manipulate her and quickly siphon her fortune as well as her commitment to leading an ethical life. Shen Te responds by inventing a steely tycoon cousin, Shui Ta, who appears every once in a while to coldly fix all the problems created by Shen Te’s promiscuous generosity.
Director Lear deBessonet never abandons Brecht’s serious quest for goodness in contemporary capitalism; she never eschews the play’s central dilemma in her turn towards amusement. But she does direct a play and not an idealogical monologue. An old-time band, The Lisps, provide a soulful country background to Good Person, while the cast perform with the professionalism and precision of a first-rate cabaret act. Mr. Turner, our narrator of sorts, has the body of a rag doll, and he flops around the stage like an exasperated Daffy Duck, singing and sputtering about his poverty. And Mr. Mac, his face caked in glitter, provides an odd mixture of camp and melancholy. His Shen Te is both hideous and beautiful, an object of ridicule and an object of pity. In his humor and in his pathos, we find the embodiment of this Good Person‘s success: here is a Brecht that is political through entertainment instead of political at the cost of entertainment. Here is a Brecht that will have you exiting the theater in the mood for a good old-fashioned hoedown.