Constellation Theatre's The Good Woman of Setzuan

Director Allison Stockwell has mounted a smart and colorful production of Berthold Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan. In this parable play, three gods (Catherine Deadman, John Geoffrion, and Kenny Littlejohn) have come to earth searching for goodness. In their wandering they come to the village of Setzuan and finally are given lodging at the home of a young lady, Shen Te, who has resorted to prostitution to make ends meet. As a reward, and to help Shen Te stay good, the gods give her a large monetary gift. Shen Te opens a tobacco shop, and uses her money in charitable acts.

The other citizens of the town take advantage of Shen Te’s goodness, and to prevent the store from folding, Shen Te puts on a mustache and creates an alter ego, her hard-nosed cousin, Shui Ta. Where Shen Te is kind, Shui Ta is stern, where Shen Te is generous, Shui Ta is stingy, where Shen Te is warm, Shui Ta is cold.

Brecht’s tale leaves the audience questioning the nature of goodness. How is one good in a world that is not? Is the gods’ definition of goodness achievable? Is it even one we agree with? Constellation Theatre’s solid production opens these questions up and presents them to the audience.

The creative designs, costumes, set, props, and lights are all uniformly excellent. The play requires quite a large cast, and as a result the quality of the acting is somewhat irregular. Most of the unevenness in the production stems from the casting of Ron Ward as Yang Sun, the aviator that Shen Te falls in love with. His charm is never convincing, leaving the audience baffled as to why Shen Te feels the way she does. Instead of coming across as romantic and naïve, Shen Te just comes across as foolish. As a result, I liked her alter-ego Shui Ta better. That obscures the point of the play a little.

Atkinson does an excellent job of switching between her two identities. She plays Shen Te with a wide-eyed openness, and as Shui Ta she sets an extreme frown upon her face and glares at those who challenge her.

The three gods (Catherine Deadman, John Geoffrion, and Kenny Littlejohn) are also highlights in the cast, especially Deadman whose strong vocal quality and physical presence add a lot to her divine bearing.

3 stars
Through April 20th


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