New play explores what makes a life worth living well

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The Saint Louis University Theatre Department is ending its 2008-2009 season in cooperation with the St. Louis Actors’ Studio with a production of playwright Bertol Brecht’s classic morality play, “The Good Person of Setzuan.” A show that challenges the viewer and asks what it means to be a good person in a world full of evil. Though the play does have moments of humor mixed in with its central message, audiences will walk out of the theatre wondering if morality is possible in such a dog-eat-dog world.

The play, set in Setzuan, China, in the 1930s, follows the story of Shen Te, a downtrodden prostitute, who according to the gods, to be the only good person in Setzuan. The gods reward her for her charity and morality by gifting her 1,000 silver coins. Shen Te buys a tobacco shop and, gradually, realizes that she can not be as generous to the needy of Setzuan as she would like to be, and still keep her business afloat. Out of desperation, she decides to adopt an alter ego, Shui Ta, and pretends to be her own cousin so that she can focus more on her business and her own happiness. Eventually, however, events transpire that force her to choose between the two identities.

The characters in the play often act through the fourth wall, and speak directly to the audience. This provides insight into the characters’ inner doubts and feelings. The production values of the play are impressive.
The cast, of both SLU students and professional actors from the St. Louis Actors’ Studio, does a lot to help transport the audience into the story and Shen Te’s experiences.

Kari Ely, from St. Louis Actors’ Studio, plays the part of Shen Te and. Her performance evokes a sympathetic woman whose plight earns the sympathy of the audience. Ely is adept at portraying the two different personas and switches from Shen Te to Shui Ta seamlessly.

David Wassilak, also from St. Louis Actors’ Studio, is memorable as Wang, the water salesman, injecting some much-needed comic relief into the darker parts of the production. His character often breaks through the fourth wall with moments of wit and comic delivery.

SLU senior Kevin Dwyer shines in his scenes as the policeman, and SLU sophomore Healy Rodman is memorable in her caring and na’ve performance as one of the gods who rewards Shen Te for her kindness. SLU senior Lindsey Trout also works as well in a small role, as the sister-in-law of the family that Shen Te takes in after she buys the tobacco shop.

This play is not easy to follow, and requires the audience to stay on its toes. Several times, the play demonstrates the development of a character through shifts in action, and there are points when it takes a moment to really understand the inner workings of the plot. The ending will surprise you and leave you wanting more.

“The Good Person of Setzuan” is playing at the Saint Louis University Theatre in Xavier Hall on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the box office located in Xavier Hall.
For more information about SLU Theatre, visit www.slu.edu/theatre.