Theatre production of 'The Good Person of Setzuan' spotlights internal conflict

Compassion and selfishness collide in the upcoming production of
Compassion and selfishness collide in the upcoming production of
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A large and interesting cast of characters portrays the struggles between compassion and selfishness in the upcoming production of “The Good Person of Setzuan.”

Theatre at Grand Valley will give five performances in the Louis Armstrong Theatre, Performing Arts Center, on the Allendale Campus. Evening performances at 7:30 p.m. are planned for April 5-6 and April 12-13. A matinee is scheduled for 2 p.m., Sunday, April 7. Tickets, $6 for students and seniors and $12 for general public, are available at the LAT Box Office at (616) 331-2300.

Written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, the play draws from Chinese folktales as it follows three fearsome gods searching Setzuan for one good person who will offer them a bed for the night. A young prostitute, Shen Te, takes them in and is rewarded with riches that allow her to leave her old life. When her desire to assist those less fortunate threatens her own survival, Shen Te takes on an alter ego by inventing a male cousin, Shui Ta, to keep the beggars in line.

“The original play, which premiered in 1943 when fascism was on the rise in Europe, focused very much on the political and economic conditions of the time,” said director Kiara Pipino, a visiting assistant professor in the School of Communications. She said her focus is more on human nature, which is weak by definition, therefore, even when we mean well, things may turn out very differently.

Pipino, originally from Italy, received a master’s degree from the University of Genoa, and an M.F.A. in theatre directing from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, prior to coming to Grand Valley. In this production, rather than the masks used in many stagings of the play, she chooses to have actors use makeup, drawing on another typical device of Brechtian theatre.
 
“Brecht used masks as a way to alienate the characters from the audience – to make them aware that they were watching a show,” said Pipino. “I want to pull the audience into the play, into the very real and emotional conflicts Shen Te experiences.”

Pipino hopes the audience will also be drawn in by the music, performed by individual characters, rather than an off-stage orchestra. “The music is familiar tunes, but the lyrics and interpretation are quite different,” she said. Anime characters and a playful set design of very few large and dimensional pieces will be utilized in different ways throughout the play.

“This is a very sweet story, with moments of darkness, but also lightness,” said Pipino. “I hope people will follow the story of Shen Te as she learns the limitations of her own goodness as she tries to make the world a better place.”

The all-student cast includes several actors performing dual roles, including the lead character ShenTe/Shui Ta, performed by senior Rae Staffen. Other characters and cast members include:

Sun (The Pilot)……Jason Flannery (also Assistant Director)
Mrs. Yang …………………………..…………...Caitlin Cusack
Wang the Waterseller………..………............Matthew Fowler
Mrs. Shin………………………..……......Bridgett Vanderhoof
The Landlady..…………………………………….Sarah Tryon
Shu Fu/Husband…………..……….….……....Gregory Papas
Wife/Old Woman..……………………...............Katie Tamayo
Grandfather/Man…………………...….........Brandon Mitchell
Nephew/Waiter……..…..……………….………....Sean Kocaj
Policeman/Old Man………………..…….........BascharUmran
Unemployed Man/Foreman/Brother……….....Justin Mackey