Review | The Good Person Of Szechwan: Hensley comes full circle

Sun Mee Chomet and Joy Dolo in THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN. Photo by Paula Keller.

The Good Person of Szechwan is Michelle Hensley’s last show as artistic director of Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company. In her distinguished career, she has brought her productions not just to the paying public but also free of charge to persons in prisons, shelters, and senior centers. Her skill as a director has attracted some of the most talented professional actors in our area to appear in her productions.

Now, Hensley is going out with the same show she began her career in 1989 in California, before she brought her TTT Company to the Twin Cities in the early 90’s. Her appreciation for the Bertolt Brecht’s Good Person is evident.

Brecht is known as one of the hardest to produce playwrights of the modern era but you’d never know it by the way Hensley’s cast and crew handily delivers the goods in this production. The adaptation by Hensley moves at a spritely pace. The entire cast has perfect timing. It features the quick-change artistry of Joy Dolo as both Shen Te the Good Person of the title and her cousin Shen Tu. She is supported by Elsie Langer, Max Wojtanowicz, Harry Waters Jr., Sun Mee Chomet, Karen Wiese-Thompson, Christina Balwin and Tyson Forbes. They bring multiple, well-delineated characters to life with excellently accented speeches. Well developed scenes play both the humor and the pathos of the characters’ situations.

The play begins with a visit from three gods who are looking for just one good person to revive their faith in humanity. Shen Te, a prostitute, is the only person in town who agrees to put them up for the night when they arrive without reservations. After giving her a sizable amount of money for their stay, they watch over her in the succeeding months to see how she handles being set upon by jealous neighbors, freeloaders and con-artists. The play demonstrates how giving money to one person doesn’t repair the social pressures found in the poor part of town.

The lyrics Brecht included in his script such as “What’s the Use?” and “Saint ‘Never Comes’ Day” help develop the characters emotional lives. These might have been developed into bigger numbers but with the play coming in at over two hours in length perhaps it is best not to drag them out. Peter Vitale, as music director, (with more than 40 TTT productions) does his usual job of putting musical accents into the scenes.

The costumes (by Trevor Bowen) are both well designed and well executed. They feature quirky, fantasyland patchwork and come in a rainbow of colors. Yang Sun’s (Forbes’) cap which hinted at his past as an airplane pilot was especially nice.

Caught in that proverbial spot between a rock and a hard place, Shen Te personifies the person who must daily choose between “being good or just staying alive.” Brecht’s work may be placed in a fictional landscape with ancient gods but the dilemma is real enough. Honor, honesty and attraction are pitted against jealousy, con-jobs and desperate people just looking to catch a break –or force one if they have to.

One final note: As yet another premier theatre in the area hands over its directorship, it is with deep regard for someone who for years brought good theatre to people who have small chance to know the empathy that can be found on stage, a huge Thank You and Fare-thee-well to Ms. Hensley.

Please visit Mari Wittenbreer’s informational website.

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