Brecht's agitprop 'Good Soul' revives it's challenge to hypocrisy.

David C. Nichols - January 16, 2004


Under Gulu Monteiro's astute stewardship, this new take on Bertolt Brecht's didactic classic is idiomatic post-millenial theater of estrangement, and Clara Bellar's memorable title tart centers a selfleess cast.

"A good soul is not easily forgotten. There aren't many." Thus goes "The Good Soul of Szechwan" at the Electric Lodge in Venice. This sharp new take on Bertolt Brecht's didactic classic is idiomatic postmillenial theater of estrangement.

Brecht wrote "Der gute Mensch von Sezuan" in 1943, during his fertileexile from Hitler's Berlin. After an opening address from an artless child (Daisy O'Bryan, who alternates aith Zola Jane and Sylvie Rae), a poetic agitprop parable transpires. Three deities (Charles Fathy, David Franco and Clement Von Frankenstein) inform water seller Wang (Albie Selznick) that they seek one good person amid pre-war China's masses. This paragon is title character Shen Te (the memorable Clara Bellar).

The heavenly trio grants the gold-hearted tart enough wealth to open a tobacco shop. Exorbitant rents from owner Mrs. Shin (Sterling Fitzgerald) prohibits its solvency. Then there is Shen Te's concern for her neighbors, particularly an old carpet-selling pair (Steven Houska and Carmit Levite). Complications mount via a wealthy admirer (Herb Mendelsohn); a brutish aviator and his mother (Jay R. Ferguson and Cheryl Dooley); and Shen Te's mysterious male "cousin".

Under Gulu Monteiro's astute stewardship, the execution honors Brecht: anti-naturalistic, deliberately off-kilter, the spectator all-important. Brecht evolved his Aristotelian concept from Vsevolod Meyerhold's theories; Jerzy Grotowski developed it further. Both are referenced here, as are commedia dell'arte and dozens of other styles.

The laconic translation is by Bellar in collaboration with the other actors and Monteiro, and it's looping whimsy feels authentic. The designers exercise unobstrusive invention. Sarah Elgart's choreography is just enough; Renata's sleek costumes display wit without fanfare. Jorginho de Carvalho's lighting, Greg De Belles' original music and the masks (created by their wearers under Isabelle Oliver's supervision) are remarkable.

So is the selfless ensemble, centered by Bellar's transluscent simplicity. These troupers embody Brecht's belief that art exists to challenge the hypocrisy that plagues civilization, and audiences exist to demand that artists do so. As this involving revival demonstrates, we must.

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