The Good Woman of Setzuan

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Production dates: October 17-18, 1969
Venue: The Experimental Theatre of Vassar College
Directed by: Clinton J. Atkinson
Literature: Bertolt Brecht
Costume Design: Mary Anne Page
Set Design: Tadeusz Gesek

The Good Woman of Setzuan is a parable plot set in a half-westernized city in China. Three gods descend to earth in search of a truly good human being. Unless one can be found, the world will have to be changed. The only person who is hospitable to them is She Te, the prostitute, whom the gods reward for her generosity. With their gift of money she establishes a tobacco shop, but is immediately beseiged by a host of parasitical beggars. And after falling in love with a worthless air man who makes her pregnant, she is forced to adopt a second identity, that of a ruthless cousin Shui Ta, who manages to put her affairs in order.

Ellen Mease (Shen Te), John Hamilton (Wong), Douglas Hunnikin (Yang Sun), John Timothy Hamine, Karl Weakley, Meryl Streep

“The Good Woman of Setzuan” was the first play of the new season for Vassar’s Experimental Theatre. I was unable to confirm Meryl Streep’s character in this production – it was either The Niece or The Sister-in-Law. The Miscellany News wrote ahead about the performance: “When staging Brecht, a director is faced with the same insoluble dilemma with which the playwright himself grappled all his life. The contradiction between Brecht’s dramatictheory and the realities of production have all too often resulted in either mangled Brecht and an enjoyable evening or good Brecht and a thoroughly soporific evening. Put simply, Brecht’s ideas of the possibilities and duties of the theater just do not work. The Experimental Theater’s production of The Good Women of Setzuan is a case in point. Except for a few relatively minor flaws and some rather to be expected amateurish acting, the play was staged pretty much as I think Brecht would have wanted. Yet, with the possible exception of the extremely well-done epilogue, the play came nowhere near to fulfilling Brecht’s expectations for it. Brecht envisioned his work as diametrically opposed to the Aristotelian concept (in which the audience, through identification with the protagonist, is purged and drained of all emotions when it leaves the theater.”