What does it mean to be a good person? That’s what drama students at Claremont secondary hope to find out with their latest production opening tonight (Wednesday) at the school’s theatre.
The Good Person of Szechwan is the story of Shen Te, an ex-hooker with a heart of gold who receives a large sum of money from the gods, but gets taken advantage of financially by her peers. To prevent others from exploiting her generosity, she makes up another identity, portraying Shui Ta, her harsh male cousin who isn’t afraid to put his foot down.
While it sounds like Pretty Woman crossed with Mrs. Doubtfire, the gender-bending play is not a light-hearted ’90s comedy, but rather a dramatic production written by German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht in the 1940s.
“The idea of the duality of a man playing a woman or vice versa is not new,” said drama teacher Colin Plant. “The audience is in on it from the beginning because they know that this young woman is doing this as a man. It’s the fact that nobody in the play does know, and there’s the unintended consequence when someone’s talking to the character as a man about the girl.”
The production stars Grade 11 student Jessica Corbin as the play’s protagonist and her fictional cousin, a challenging task for most seasoned actors.
Perhaps most difficult, she said, is maintaining the subtle nuances of Shen Te while portraying Shui Ta without overdoing it.
“I have to be tough Shui Ta but I also have to be vulnerable Shen Te, so it’s hard to place those without overlapping too much,” she said.
Claremont senior Trevor Hamer stars alongside Corbin as Yang Sun, Shen Te’s love interest who manipulates her to part with her money. Despite that, Shen Te falls madly in love with Yang Sun, adding to the drama of the production.
“If you look in the dialogue, Yang Sun’s lines are just so harshly said, you can tell he’s in it for the money,” said Hamer. “He doesn’t love her at all.”
“When I’m interacting with Yang Sun as Shui Ta, there’s some vulnerability,” added Corbin, “because Shen Te is in love with him and she’s hearing all these rotten things that he’s saying about her and the true feelings of Yang.”
The inadvertently direct criticisms make for a gripping climax at Shen Te and Yang Sun’s wedding, and The Good Person of Szechwan ultimately forces the audience to question what makes a person good.
“This play has you thinking about your financial place in the world,” said Plant. “Yes, we all want more money to have more nice things in our life, but how much is enough and isn’t it considered desirable to be charitable?
“Being charitable and being capitalistic in your approach to money is at odds with each other, and that’s what Brecht is really saying in the play: It’s easy to be cruel and keep your money, but it’s hard to be charitable and kind.”
The Claremont drama students are performing the play at 7:30 p.m. nightly from Feb. 17 to 20 and 23 to 26, with tickets at the door priced at $10.
For more information, email Plant at firstname.lastname@example.org.