Masquers Theatre Group to Present "The Good Woman of Setzuan"

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Fairmont State University Masquers will perform Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan” for six performances in February and March. Performance dates and times are 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 and 26, 2 p.m. Feb. 27 and 7:30 p.m. on March 10, 11 and 12 in the Wallman Hall Theatre on the FSU main campus. Tickets can be obtained by calling the School of Fine Arts Box Office at (304) 367-4240 or online at www.fairmontstate.edu/tickets.     

 A parable about capitalism

Brecht’s “The Good Woman of Setzuan” is a parable about three gods who come to earth in search of a good person, whose existence will justify their own. They are put up for the night by the prostitute Shen Te, and they reward her with a sum of money that enables her to purchase a small tobacco shop. Shen Te is immediately set upon by a collection of various victims and victimizers, all claiming a piece of her reward. 

She discovers that it is impossible to be both good and prosperous and creates an alter ego to help her keep her shop. The helper is her male cousin, Shui Ta, who ruthlessly manipulates the system in order to maintain Shen Te’s ownership of the shop. Eventually, Shen Te realizes that she cannot survive without Shui Ta, and he takes over her life. 

The play ends in a courtroom, where Shui Ta is accused of “disappearing” Shen Te, who finally reveals herself before the judges, who are the three gods. The gods bless Shen Te and encourage her to continue to be good. The play ends with their benediction as they return to heaven, having justified themselves, while leaving Shen Te to solve her dilemma on her own.

Bertolt Brecht an acknowledged master

German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht is one of the most influential theatre artists of the 20th century. He reshaped theatre practice in significant and lasting ways. Prominent theatre artists from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner, author of “Angels in America,” to the Tony Award winning director and choreographer of “Chicago,” Bob Fosse, have acknowledged their debt to Brecht.

 Purpose of art to create change

A committed socialist, Brecht’s desire was to use theatre as a tool to analyze human behavior in materialist terms.  He wrote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”  He wanted to engage his audience in a critical evaluation of character and action rather than draw them into an emotional involvement.

"Epic theatre" a way to effect change

Brecht invented a genre of plays and a style of production that he dubbed “epic theatre.”  Through such devices as songs, non-realistic lighting, episodic structure and direct audience address, he shaped an experience that invited his audience to analyze and question character action in a way that would lead them to consider how they might go about changing the world.

Quick production history up to 2011

Brecht began writing “The Good Woman of Setzuan” in 1938 and completed it in 1943 while in self-imposed exile in the United States. The play premiered in 1943 in Switzerland at the Zürich Schauspielhaus. Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble produced the German premiere in 1957, under Brecht’s direction. The FSU Masquers produced the play in the spring of 1968. The Masquers are currently in rehearsals, preparing for their Feb. 25 opening of “The Good Woman of Setzuan” in a translation by Tony Kushner.

FSU Masquers production to feature original music performed live

Brecht wrote the lyrics for the six songs that break into the action of “The Good Woman of Setzuan.” Dr. Patrick Joyce, FSU Adjunct Professor of Music, has written music for five of these songs, along with incidental and underscoring music. The music for the sixth song is written by FSU Theatre major and Music minor Matt Bradley, who will also be a musician in the quartet that will perform the music live for the performances. The quartet of two guitarists, a flute player and percussionist is comprised of Fairmont State music students.

Expressionistic scenery designed by FSU Theatre major

Senior Theatre major Jane Ryan is the scenic designer for the play. Associate Professor of Theatre Troy Snyder is mentoring Ryan in her Senior Comprehensive Project, the culminating experience of her four years of theatre study at FSU. Her design acknowledges Brecht’s early involvement in the German Expressionist movement. It also effectively and creatively provides the environments for the eleven settings Brecht’s piece requires.

Twenty-one actors in production, including three children

Dr. John O’Connor, Fairmont State Professor of Theatre, directs a company of 21 actors portraying 33 characters. The cast includes 18 FSU students and three Marion County children – Gatsby Rider, and Sinead and Billy Tobin. All three have appeared on the Wallman Hall Theatre stage in past Town & Gown Theatre productions.

The cast includes Rennes Carbaugh, Jamie Clegg, Chris Vickers, Morgan Davis, Kurtis Dennison, Sami Dull, Jesalyn Fluharty, Suzie Hall, Anthony Host, Kelly Blake, Samantha Huffman, Tyler Kovar, Jay Lindsay, Taylor Riffle, Jeremiah Ripley, Loralee Simpson, Catherine Smith and Hannah Weakley.