Phoenix Theatre’s current production of Good Person of Setzuan closes on November 24, so there’s still time to catch it. If you need a bit of prompting, here’s what the local media has been saying about it.
Veteran Times Colonist reviewer Adrian Chamberlain felt “The Good Person of Setzuan is as relevant today as it was 70 years ago . . . [it] investigates the corrupting influences of commerce and poverty. And that stuff never goes out of vogue.”
From the show’s large cast, Chamberlain noted in his November 10 review—titled “A Person Worth Getting to Know”—that lead actor Veronique Piercy “plays Shen Te as a believably forthright person, while her Shui Ta musters the requisite backbone for a hard-nosed business type. Kale Penny plays Wang the water-seller with flair and the right balance of humour and pathos.”
He also praised director Conrad Alexandrowicz’s “contemporary dance/movement flourishes” that he felt “work very well . . . a gang of street people trudges onstage single file—arms on each other’s shoulders—to seek charity, then exits in the same manner when denied. Bouts of fisticuffs are enacted in exaggerated comic-book style. There’s wit and humour to this approach.”
Meanwhile, Monday Magazine‘s Mary Ellen Green cited the “modern touches” that director Alexandrowicz used to update the story to the 21st century, and enjoyed the original music by third-year student Francis Melling, which, she says, “adds a blues-rock edge to the production, and also a sense of whimsy.”
Green also noted in her November 14 review that “the set, designed by fourth-year student Simon Farrow, is immense, successfully portraying the vastness of a metropolis … The set doesn’t necessarily resemble China, though, but more of a modern international any-city, which makes a lot of sense considering the issues in the play are universal.” She also pointed out “costume designer Kat Jeffery‘s use of armbands emblazoned with the names of mega-corporations really brought home the theme of humans being slaves to unchecked corporate greed.”
Monica Prendergast, one of the theatre reviewers for local CBC Radio morning show On the Island, says “movement professor Conrad Alexandrowicz does quite a nice job directing . . . He has a nice ensemble. The stage is littered with young people, which is always great, and they move nicely together as you would expect from a movement professor . . . The play takes a lighter approach to the story.” Listen to a podcast of Prendergast’s seven-minute On the Island review here.
Finally, local theatre blogger Janis La Couvée says, “Piercy toggles effortlessly between the two roles . . . the chemistry between Shen Te and her lover, the unemployed pilot Yang Sun (Alex Frankson), is persuasive. It’s easy to see why Shen Te falls for his advances and promises, time and time again, despite her best intentions . . . I particularly enjoyed the annoying antics of Mrs. Shin (Christie Stewart), Shen Te’s nosy and know-it-all neighbour.”
La Couvée also noted how “the massive scale of the set (designed by Simon Farrow) serves to underline the overbearing inevitability of the industrialized complex, and the desperate poverty of the city’s citizens while offsetting it through the creation of more intimate spaces like the magnificently retractable tobacco shop.” You can read the entire review on La Couvée’s blog.
Finally, give a listen to director Conrad Alexandrowicz’s own thoughts about the production, as well as more about the history and philosophies of Bertolt Brecht—from his marxist beliefs to his ideas of Epic theatre—in this podcast from the Phoenix’s Director’s Series. Alexandrowicz offered “The Art of Bertolt Brecht” as a pre-show lecture, and it serves as a great primer before seeing the show.