As a playwright, Bertolt Brecht preferred to defy the theatrical norms of his time and replace them with his own unique style and feel. He designed his works to keep his audience thinking and analyzing the theories and ideas that his plays presented. He despised theater that allowed its audience to slip into a passive catharsis and forget themselves and the world around them. To break from this norm, he focused on destroying the theatrical illusion by having his actors wear masks, by having lighting and other tech equipment visible on stage, and by reminding the audience through dialogue, comedy and song that they are watching a performance.
The production of Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan put on by the University of Indianapolis’s Theatre Department follows his beliefs well. Though the unique and sometimes confusing story and the less than usual techniques employed in the play may drive away some theatre-goers, there is still much for everyone to enjoy about this performance. The combination of Chinese and German theatrical influences lends the show a refreshing feel and the use of mist and Chinese music lend to the entire performance space an otherworldly atmosphere.
As was common for Brecht’s plays, there is not a concrete ending to the play, and certainly not a happy one, but the ending works. Brecht’s works were – as the playbill states – not about answers but about questions. The Good Person of Szechwan offers to viewers the question “Is it possible to be a good person and prosper in this world?” The play’s lead character wavers back and forth so often that audiences may be upset, but this works more towards the feel for which Brecht was aiming. The play is more about philosophical discussion than about placating human uncertainties and answering all of life’s mysteries with a simple, juvenile answer.
Today’s performance marks the end of the first week of the show’s run. Performances will also be held in the Ransburg Auditorium on February 25-27 at 8:00 pm. Be sure to be in attendance if you enjoy theatre that makes you think, but is not afraid to make you laugh at the same time. Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person of Szechwan is quite good at providing its audience with much about which to think and to laugh.