Woman has wild search for goodness in theatrical presentation at Wykoff

The audience of Ten Thousand Things Theater's production of "The Good Person of Szechwan" watches closely as the play proceeds. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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“Is there no good person in Szechwan?” 

That searching question was uttered by a trio of gods, but add a selfie stick and one might have mistaken them for tourists at Disney.

Except that their casual trip to Earth to lodge with Shen Te, a lady of the night not by choice, but by necessity of having to pay rent, resulted in some less than casual troubles for said lady once they granted her 20,000 silver coins.  Because once one who has lived in poverty moves on up, the neighbors tend to notice.     

Approximately 50 people took a moment last Tuesday, April 24, to witness Minneapolis theatre company Ten Thousand Things’ (TTT) production of “The Good Person of Szechwan,” a play written by Bertolt Brecht, as the theatre company made its first stop on a 20-stop tour at the Wykoff Community Hall, courtesy of Dreamery Rural Arts Initiative (DRAI) of rural Wykoff and DRAI artist Eva Barr. 

Individuals hailing from Wykoff proper, rural Wykoff, Chatfield, Spring Valley, Racine, Preston and beyond gathered in a circle to create the perimeter of a TTT stage where the cast of thespians pondered how survival could be achieved in a place that Shen Te described as “one big sinkhole,” a place where despair and poverty were everyday and ordinary.  Shen Te asks, “How can I be good when everything is so expensive?” 

In her quest to meet the description of “being good” by trying to lend a hand to her desperate and penniless neighbors who have learned of her gods-given windfall, she stumbles into relationships that do her more harm than better her, and the more she attempts to be helpful and uplift others, the more people show up in droves to make her offers she can’t refuse.  Ultimately, she ends up inventing a ruthless businessman cousin, Mr. Shui Ta, who exacts from the neighbors what’s needed for her — and now her unborn child — to get by, only to be discovered as having invented Shui Ta when it’s suspected that she had been murdered by Shui Ta. 

The gods, of course, swoop back in to see what’s happening at Disney — to ride the teacups or perhaps poke at Shen Ta, someone they seem to see as a piece of gum stuck to the earth that’s pliable enough in destitute circumstances to be called “good” even when she had to make choices she felt were despicable. 

Shen Ta exclaims as they ascend to the heavens once more, “For your great godly deeds, I was too small,” then utters “HELP!” out of exasperation and confusion, at which point Wang the water seller, the person who had found lodging for the gods at Shen Ta’s, returns to take her friend’s hand as an expression of solidarity and comfort.

Director Michelle Hensley wrote in the program for the tour that TTT has done “The Good Person of Szechwan” three times — in 1989 as its very first play, when the first George Bush was president; again in 2003 for its 10th season, when the next George Bush was in charge; and now, once again, on the verge of TTT’s 25th anniversary. 

“Each time we do it, it feels like our country has become an even harsher place, with extremes between the rich and poor continuing to skyrocket,” she wrote.  “‘The Good Person’ feels like a play we could do every year, as long as we live in an economic system that rewards those who are the most selfish and ruthless.  Thankfully, Brecht tells his story with so much humor!  We truly need to laugh to keep our sanity.  And, I will say, 30 years later, I can also see more and more small fires of light and hope around me, as people try even harder to figure out how to resist greed and make the world a better place for everyone.  We hope you will be inspired to keep on trying mightily to figure it out, too!”            

Barr thanked everyone for attending the production as the evening came to a close, and the TTT thespians kindly answered questions posed by the audience’s members while everyone grazed on the remaining delightful refreshments graciously provided for intermission by Sarah and Kirby Johnson of Spring Valley.  The play was one of the spring programs planned for the Dreamery’s 2018 season and was made possible through Minnesota’s arts legacy funding.