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LA Theater Review

The Good Woman of Setzuan

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Bertolt Brecht's powerful parable of morality and human society, set in a fanciful version of the city of Szechuan, is marvelously realized by director Charles Otte and his talented ensemble of actors, musicians, and designers. Otte evokes the mysterious whimsy of Brecht's world while capturing the darkly political edge of Brecht's message.

The story is chock full of myth and metaphor, as three gods arrive in Szechuan in search of honesty and goodness, but find only evil, dishonesty, and greed. The one exception is Shen Te (Lauren Lovett), a prostitute who gives the gods shelter for the night. Recognizing her goodness, they give her money to buy a tobacco shop. But, in the world of Brecht, Shen Te's good fortune only makes her a target for the greed and selfishness of others—including the police, her customers, her landlady, and a host of others. Shen Te's solution is to reinvent herself as a forceful male cousin, Shui Ta, who can play the tough guy in the face on an onslaught of evil. However, Shen Te's problems are compounded when she falls in love with an unemployed mail pilot, Yang Sun (Benny Wills), who exploits her for his selfish ends.

Brecht was a firmly convinced Marxist, but the play relies more on metaphor than dogma, and provides many more questions than answers about the nature of evil in human society. At the play's end, Brecht asks the tough question: Can humans be both good and rich? Or, as he puts it on a grander scale: Can we change human nature, or must we change human society?

Otte blends the performances, sets, costumes, and music into a richly textured pattern that brings this difficult piece into full bloom. Stellar performances by Lovett and Wills, along with Phillip William Brock, Katherine Griffith, Jan Monroe, Michael Franco, Becca Cousineau, Beth Robbins, Sarah Buster, Robert George, and the rest of the cast capture the essence of Brecht's character portraits. Sets by Richard Hoover, costumes by Christina Wright, and music direction by Dean Mora are wonderful additions to this intelligent, inspiring production.

Presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. June 4-July 17. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 882-6912. www.openfist.org.

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