Is it possible to be a good, upstanding person in today’s world or does the lust and corruption of those around us compel dishonesty and selfishness just to get by? These are the questions that plague the young prostitute, Shen Te of Szechwan. When through literal divine intervention she secures enough funds to open a modest tobacco shop, she must soon invent a cold-hearted male cousin, Shui Ta, to protect her financial interests from the kindness of her own heart and the desperate need of those around her.
Since its first performance in 1943 the allegorical work of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Szechwan has remained a staple of Brecht’s canonical genre, Epic Theatre. Although it has never achieved the the same international acclaim as his Threepenny Opera, the piece has proven to be possibly his best critique of capitalism and continues to remain popular on the German Stage.
After the successful cooperation for the productions of Fabian - Going to the Dogs (2014), The Mother (2015) and Danton's Death (2016), Peter Kleinert collaborates with the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts in Berlin for the fourth time. The youthful ensemble under his direction and in combination with the versatile stage design of Céline Demars give the piece an adrenaline shot of modernity. In the simplistic and intimate atmosphere of the Schaubühne’s Studio Theater the world of Szechwan is comprised of countless beer crates, scaffolding and single multi-doored display case. Each member of the talented ensemble not only embodies multiple roles, but also performs in the onstage band which provides live musical accompaniment for the piece.
Kleinert’s adaptation has all the trappings that have come to be expected from a piece of Epic Theatre; the constant breaking of the fourth wall, the highlighting of the theatricality of the performance and the alienation of the audience. While highly entertaining, Kleinert’s pursuit of comedic relief proves to occasionally backfire as the piece’s inherently cutting irony reads as flat and farcical. The reason Brecht's parable has remained shockingly pertinent today may very well have more to do with an ever increasing disparity between the rich and poor around the globe than with any modernisation of the piece itself. Indeed the performance’s greatest achievement doesn’t seem to lie in a sense of originality, but instead in its intimacy with the audience and in its showcasing of an extremely promising young actress. Laura Balzer’s outstanding performance as Shen Te/Shui Ta as she struggles between her desire to be a “good” person and the cold necessity of her own self preservation gives us pause to ponder upon this dynamic in our own lives. Can anyone truly afford to be good, in a world where it only takes “one weakness and you’re done for”?