Performance Review: The Good Person of Setzuan

Posted on January 25, 2012 by

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By Ryan Kuketz

From Thursday November 17 through Sunday November 20, the Worcester State Theatre and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts presented “The Good Person of Setzuan” directed by Adam Zahler.

The play begins with Wong, a poor water seller, who meets two gods and she does all she can to find a place where the gods can sleep for the night. After asking almost the entire town of Setzuan, a prostitute named Shen Te allows them to sleep in her house for the night. After a good night’s sleep the gods go against their normal ways and give Shen Te money as they believe she is truly a good person.

Shen Te uses the money to open up a small tobacco shop, but her plan to run a modest shop alone falls through as her cousins and other relatives hear about the shop and come to live and work with her. Shen Te, who is truly a good person, does nott kick them out but instead she creates an alter ego named Shui Ta who claims to be Shen Te’s cousin who co-owns the shop. Shui Ta is a strict businessman who does not allow moochers and lays down the ground rules for the family staying.

Shen Te has a very hard time getting respect from others in the town of Setzuan as everyone knows she was a prostitute but with the help of Shui Ta things get a little better for her. Shen Te meets other business owners who lend her money so she can pay the rent for six months in advance that the landowner demands from her to keep her shop open. Shen Te also meets and falls in love with a pilot who is in need of money so he can fly again and Shen Te gives him the money he needs. This puts Shen Te in a sticky situation as she needed to use the money to pay her rent and her world gets crazier as she switches from Shen Te to Shui Ta more frequently and rapidly as the play progresses.

Amanda Hoegen, who played Shen Te and Shui Ta, was outstanding. Whenever she changed from Shen Te to Shui Ta the audience felt like it really was a completely different character. Samantha Abel, who played , Wong was also exceptional. She communicated with other characters in the play, the audience and even at one point a stagehand.

One downside to this play was the way the set was designed and the noise from others not directly involved in the scene. At points during the play there were characters to the side of stage playing music quietly. Although it was not supposed to be so loud and distracting while it was happening, it was hard to focus on the scene that was being acted on stage. With the set being three different locations at once performers who were getting ready to appear on a different part of the stage would sometimes make too much noise and distract from the story going on. The play also featured multiple musical numbers that seemed unnecessary.

Another noteworthy aspect of the play was the very lifelike puppets and the way they were used on stage was reminiscent of how the puppets in “Lion King” on Broadway were operated. Designed by John Hood, the first puppet seen was a crane that was operated by two people, Trang Le and Sara Penniman. The crane moved in a way a real life crane would and during one scene it interacted with the main character Shen Te. The crane even showed a little bit of emotion while interacting with Shen Te. Along with the crane, there were also lifelike puppets of children. Although it seemed the human puppets were used because there were not enough actors cast, they were still a great feature to the show.

The “Good Person of Setzuan” featured great acting and it was great way to spend over two hours for just ten dollars. The Visual and Performing Arts Department will be putting on a Performance of “Handels Messaiah” on December 2 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Worcester. 

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