The Good Woman of Setzuan | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Good Woman of Setzuan


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The Good Woman of Setzuan, Stage Left Theatre. The words "religious" and "sweet" are not usually associated with Bertolt Brecht, yet this story of a woman whose goodness threatens to destroy her is both. Brecht combines his own version of the Christ story with Paradise Lost to tenderly assess the costs of living. Without sacrificing Brecht's political perspective, director David M. Schmitz brings out every parallel between the stories--the betrayal, the sacrifice, even the role of the water seller/Baptist in bringing the savior to light. The ideas that poverty makes every absolute debatable and that force and cunning are required to secure the good are familiar from Mother Courage; but here the battle with circumstance seems, if not successful, at least not futile.

As Shen Te, the good woman, and her alter ego the ruthless Mr. Shui Ta, Gina Virgallito is flawless, from her magnificent a cappella soprano to the alteration of stance and tone by which she distinguishes the gentle woman from the shrewd businessman. She's well supported by the rest of the ensemble, especially Mark Nathan as Shen Te's would-be lover, whose failure to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot recalls both Adam's fall and Satan's exile from heaven. Though Kevin Heckman is a bit over-the-top as water seller Wong, his final rhymed-couplet appeal to the audience is--well, sweet. Ed Reardon's music and music direction are superb, and utterly true to Brecht; standing out among the strong design team is mask designer Santosha Chantal.

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