The Good Person Of Setzuan by Frank Theatre, performing in the Rainbow Foods space on Minnehaha Avenue

Patrick Bailey and Emily Grodzik in The Good Person Of Setzuan. Photo by Tony Nelson.

Patrick Bailey and Emily Grodzik in The Good Person Of Setzuan. Photo by Tony Nelson.

Another of Frank Theatre‘s brilliant “found spaces”: the back room of the old Rainbow Foods. A gorgeous steel stairway, the “meat cooler,” the “sorting table” (whatever that is), an enormous ventilation pipe, weird platforms, a view out to the store proper where shadowy performers can be seen. Perfect. There are very few plays that wouldn’t fit wonderfully into this funky room. Why go to the Guthrie, CTC, or even Latté Da (now occupying the restored Ritz) with their stuffy new-car ambiance. You could come here. Wallow (the right word) in theatrical poetry. A loving God wouldn’t permit this delightful room to go to waste. Note to the developers: be strong. Make this a permanent theater.

And get rid of those diabolical, butt-numbing seats.

The play? OK! The Good Person Of Setzuan (Frank, performing in the old Rainbow Foods, Lake and Minnehaha, through Nov 20), by the brilliant and astonishing Bertolt Brecht. Translation: Wendy Arons. Adaptation: Tony Kushner.

Like all of Brecht’s great plays (there are 5 or 6, and what playwright can say as much?), The Good Person is both Germanically dramatic and funny. This is a rare and beautiful combination. The play is long-winded (more on length in a moment) and rather too easily summarized: set in a Never-Never Land China, Shen Te’s tobacco shop is going belly-up due to her nearly suicidal generosity. So she invents a cynical, hard-nosed and selfish cousin, Shui Ta. Shui Ta keeps the shop afloat. The Good Person becomes thusly an effective parable of money-grubbing greed vs. goodness and generosity. The spinning-out of this story is fab.

Director Wendy Knox (also Frank’s long-time artistic director) has staged the play intelligently, trusting the story, trusting the talents of her cast, and trusting her own quietly febrile creativity (Ms. Knox, bless her, doesn’t have a faster/funnier bone in her body). The Good Person Of Setzuan unfolds deliberately, quietly holding our attention. Knox is a treasure.

As Shen Te/Shui Ta Emily Grodzik is a wonder. Shen Te is sweet and courageous, with a zest for life unfazed by the Brechtian squalor in which she lives. We sense, with Grodzik’s rather nervous Shui Ta, that Shen Te wants to come forward, so that her vision of life will triumph. Does it? See The Good Person Of Setzuan and find out.

The whole cast thrills, but it is necessary for me to single out the hootful Virginia S. Burke as the nasty sashaying mother-in-law; Kirby Bennett as the arch, all-ears Mrs. Shin (Bennett gives a terrific, hard-to-describe performance); Patrick Bailey as the narrating Water Seller; and John Middleton as the coarse (and less than perfectly intelligent) pilot. His John Waters moustache is lovely. Everyone is good.

Ahem. The Good Person Of Setzuan is three hours and fifteen minutes long. But don’t let this stop you! This is as rich and mesmerizing as live theater gets.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.

 

1 comment for “The Good Person Of Setzuan by Frank Theatre, performing in the Rainbow Foods space on Minnehaha Avenue

  1. Sharon
    November 2, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    So proud of you Wendy!

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