Setzuan makes audience think
The Good Person of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht, directed by the internationally acclaimed Peter Kleinert, opened to a crowded room bursting with enthusiasm and anticipation. Energy radiated from the stage as the actors prepared themselves for the performance, deeply involved in their pre-show warm-ups. The public nature of this activity — which usually takes place somewhere backstage, safe from the audience’s view — made the audience question if in fact this was a part of the production, setting the tone for the rest of the play. Setzuan was not a typical play in any sense, and this unique production certainly made it more than unusual.
The story follows a young prostitute, Shen Te (senior drama major Ava DeLuca-Verley), who, in the minds of the Three Gods, is the only representation of goodness still remaining on Earth. The play focuses on her identity crisis as she battles friends who attempt to take advantage of her “goodness.” The story looks at the concept of being good, leaving the audience with food for thought. To what degree does goodness exist? If it does not exist, what does that mean for humanity?
The play places a large emphasis on breaking the so-called “fourth wall,” or having the characters within the play, and the actors themselves, interact with the audience. For instance, when a new character would step into the story, the actor would introduce him or herself to the audience and explain the character he or she was to embody for the rest of the play. It was an atypical and welcomed aspect of the play. Nick Abele, a senior design major, said during intermission, “The CMU drama department always puts on great twists to the stories and adds a new style which makes it enjoyable.”
The costume, lighting, and set design were brilliant and truly gave the show a distinct flavor that enabled the audience to relate to a story written in the late 1930s. For instance, the Three Gods, played by Lucia Rodrique, Amanda Thorp, and Grey Henson, all senior drama majors, were clad in the most unusual and intriguing garb one would imagine three gods to wear. They boasted enormous black trench coats with outrageously tall black platform leg-high boots, the type that Gene Simons would be jealous of. Grey Henson’s character deviated from the other two and donned Alexander McQueen-inspired platforms, similar to the ones Lady Gaga wore in her “Bad Romance” music video.
The costuming was not the only component that made this production a pleasure for the viewer. The setting was a true oddity that one could not help but love. There was an industrial feel to the set, which was a disorganized, yet organized, mess. Set changes were made directly on the stage, making the audience feel like part of the interworkings of the production.
The musical performances were adequate, providing the audience with a nice break from dialogue. The implementation of electric guitar and keyboard made the music much more vibrant and woke up anyone in the audience who may have been dozing off just a tad — it was an almost three-hour performance, after all.
The nuanced feel of the production proves that when it comes to theater, the success of the production is dependent upon the interpretations adopted by the director, the designers, and the actors. The show was magnificent on a superficial level, but it also had incredible themes and a wonderful takeaway message for the audience relating to goodness in humanity.
In fact, at the end of this unorthodox play (and production) the audience is literally called upon to be the judge. It is left to brainstorm a resolution, a satisfactory ending that it feels comfortable with.
Making the audience work a little? A brilliant move and the ultimate manifestation of audience interaction of which Brecht himself would have approved.