Is there anything more beautiful in this world than a good person?
And is there anything more boring when it comes to storytelling?
This Good Person, in residence at the Public Theatre, is not all good, however, and in that is the saving grace of this production. Taylor Mac’s Shen Te, when she is revved up, has an attitude that would fuel a mack truck several times over.
When Wang the Water Seller (an excellent David Turner) begs shelter for the Gods (Vinie Burrows, Mia Katigbak and Mary Shultz) who are visiting Szechwan village (looking for a Good Person) because no one else will let them in (no room at the inn, get it?) Shen Te welcomes them. No matter that she is a prostitute – Gods don’t care about details like that. As a reward for her kindness the Gods give her enough money to leave her profession and set up a tobacco shop. Remember this is in the long ago time when tobacco was a good thing.
Once the shop is open, every drowned rat in the woodpile comes out to greet Shen Te. People, who have no right to ask for a favor, never mind shelter or food, march in and take up space in Shen Te’s life as well as her shop. Shen Te is generous when most of us, myself included, would not be so forthcoming. Eventually she gets into trouble financially and must change her identity to that of her cousin Shui Ta. As her cousin she can exhibit logic and common sense. As a man she can take action without concern for others. As a man she can hear the opinions other hold of Shen Te, one of which is to solve her financial problems by marrying her off to a widower with children. As She Te again she goes to carry out her fate of an unwanted marriage, but instead comes upon Sun (Clifton Duncan) who has lost his wings as an aviator and wants to die. The two commiserate and connect. Suddenly Shen Te is offered the opportunity to seize the day and the love she wants. This calls for a spectacular musical number.
Shen Te’s beloved Sun needs money in order to get his aviator status back. In the journey to get him the money we travel a winding road with Shen Te. There are more character transitions into Shui Ta who not only discovers Sun’s cavalier attitude but takes part in restoring Sun to his true honorable self all the while masking that Shen Te is with child.
It is the final wonderful/terrible scenes that bring on an emotional whack in the head. As the Gods appear once again and confront Shui Ta and the town folk who are seeking Shen Te, the whole passionate horrible dilemma comes tumbling out of Shen Te. How can we be both good and unkind? What do we do when we are tempted off our path? Why is it we are our own best friend and our own enemy – and what the heck is up with this world??!!!!
Shen Te closes with
O gods, for your vast projects
I, poor human, was too small.
To which the Gods respond
You can manage. Only be good, and all will be well!
These are Gods who stick to their guns – and do it with style.
While the first act plods along, it is the second act that takes off, both plot wise and musically. Mr. Mac is at his best when he is slamming a song out of the park. He reaches down inside himself with a brave heart and touches us in places we didn’t know we had. He is more than supported by a stunning cast, who play multiple roles with precision and bravado. In particular Lisa Kron is so off the charts she is unrecognizable.
The story builds to a crescendo that is one of those moments in the theatre where we are hit on a visceral level – the kind that makes you remember why you love the theatre. And the epilogue delivered by Ms. Kron ties the entire evening up in a golden ribbon.
"Sublime production ... If you associate Brecht with heavy-treading, messagemongering nights at the theater, you may be taken aback to find how purely entertaining his work can be when it is delivered with invention and a spirit of inquisitive exuberance, as it is here."
charls Isherwood for New York Times
"Despite a few dips and sags over 23/4 hours, director Lear deBessonet’s deft vision appeals to the eyes, ears and hearts. Feelings generated in this bittersweet show are the real deal."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"It entertains even as it makes you think. .., the show is a marvel of joyful heart and lo-fi ingenuity."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
External links to full reviews from popular press...