CSUEB Thestre & Dance presents THE GOOD PERSON OF SETZUAN by Tony Kushner, adapted from the play by Bertolt Brecht (translation by Wendy Arons)
Directed by Corey Fischer
November 9, 10, 16, 17 at 8 PM & 18 at 2 PM
University Theatre – $15 General; $10 Discount; $5 CSUEB Student
Purchase your ticket online: csueastbaytickets.com or call for reservation: 510-885-3118
* * *
Among Bertolt Brecht’s funniest, most accessible and moving plays, the play is set in the imaginary town of “Setzuan” China. But the play’s characters are clearly recognizable as members of the “99%” who can be found in any country. In this timeless theatrical parable, three rag-tag gods come to earth with the mission of discovering whether a thoroughly good person can survive – or even exist – on the troubled planet earth.
* * *
And here are the notes I wrote for the program:
Whenever I consider a possible theatre project, I ask myself, “What story most needs telling in this moment?” Life is too short and theatre-making too difficult to take on any work unless I feel it must be experienced – right now!
I can think of no play more relevant to our current situation thanBertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Setzuan.
The Three Gods in “The Good Person of Szechuan”
A bit of ancient history: In 534 BCE, An Athenian general, Pisistratus, who had become dictator, tired of the belligerence and divisions among his fellow citizens, invented an annual theatre festival. With this stroke of genius, all theatre activity came together at a single place and time. All four tribes came into a common space and shared a common experience.
The result was nothing short of revolutionary. Athenian consciousness changed. Within a generation, in 508 BCE, democracy began.
Brecht deeply understood the fundamental connection between theatre and democracy and understood that true democracy and an economy driven by uncontrolled greed were incompatible. That understanding is embedded in all his plays and his theoretical writing about theatre. As a German writer known for his left-wing political views, Brecht had to flee his homeland when the Nazis came to power or be executed. He knew exactly what happened under an undemocratic, authoritarian government. He had also seen how the Nazis rise to power had depended on having a large, poor, hopeless and embittered population.
In Good Person, Brecht does not lecture or argue or try to convince us of anything. He simply tells a story, a parable that takes place in an imaginary place that he calls Szechwan (or Setchuan. His spelling wasn’t consistent.) The place might be in China or Brazil or Greece or the U.S. – anywhere in a world where money means power and equality is a joke. Brecht asks whether, in any society of this sort, it is possible to be “good” – to be generous and compassionate – or is one forced to be ruthless and selfish in order to merely survive? As you’ll see, the answer is as complex as the question.
The version of the play I directed was co-translated from the German and adapted by one of the most accomplished and inventive living American playwrights, Tony Kushner (Angels in America). The New York-based actor/director Mark Nelson, with whom I worked in 1977 in Joe Chaikin’s The Dybbuk at the Public Theatre, directed Good Person at Princeton in 2010. He generously shared with me what he had discovered in his travels through the play, including his very smart edits.
One of the delights of the project has been the music. The play includes nine songs. Many different composers have written music for the play over the years, but no single score has become permanently attached. Since I wouldn’t know the musical range of the actors I’d be working with until the play was cast, I decided to develop the songs with the ensemble in rehearsal collaborating with beat-boxer, musician and actor Carlos Aguirre. Several of the actors had experience with rap, hip-hop and spoken word. With a bit of tweaking, Brecht’s lyrics found new expression in these indigenously American forms which, like the German cabaret and street music of the 1930s, are irreverent, accessible and deceptively simple.
Along with our sound designer, Matthew Payne, I composed and/or found the recorded music we’re using in various way throughout the production. I write this just after a long rehearsal in which we timed and placed all the audio cues for the play. tomorrow we have our first of three dress rehearsals before opening on Friday, November 9.
The cast, all students at CSUEB, have achieved the rare feat of becoming a true,functioning ensemble in an impossibly short time. As someone who is coming to university theatre for the first time after 34 years in TJT, a professional, collaborative, ensemble theatre company, that closed last May, I am enormously grateful for the welcome I’ve found at CSUEB’s Theatre and Dance Department.