Good Woman of Setzuan: Don't be afraid of Brecht

Good Woman of Setzuan: Don't be afraid of Brecht
Image courtesy Theatre Pro Rata
Up next for Theatre Pro Rata is a work by Bertolt Brecht. Director Carin Bratlie doesn't want you to be scared.

The company tackles Good Woman of Setzuan starting Saturday. It was the first Brecht that Bratlie read two decades ago. "I came back to it and it was striking how funny it was. It is absurd and silly and whimsical. It was a laugh riot," she says.

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Sure, the author of Mother Courage and "laugh riot" don't naturally go together, but the action of Good Woman of Setzuan is a different beast. The piece is a parable about the lone good person in the community, who has to create an evil alter ego to survive.

"We decided to really heighten the humor. We made a lot of fun and silly choices. That's the access point in this bizarre and whimsical world with all these strange characters in this city of thieves," Bratlie says. "You don't get force fed the message of the play. You get to discover the message as you go along."

Those absurd choices include presenting main character Shen Te's shop -- described as small in the story -- on a three-foot by three-foot platform. "We have up to seven actors on that at one time," Bratlie says. "We have all these characters packed into this absurd world."

The number of characters can actually be greater than the number of actors in one scene. "We have one person playing all nine characters in one family using masks and puppets," Bratlie says. "It's a real tour de force in terms of execution for the puppeteers to do this."

There's still plenty of Brecht on display. "We are embracing the ideas, like singing and puppetry. He always wanted his things crafted as moments. He wanted the audience invested but not emotionally lost in it. The audience is able to stay outside the experience. We see the lesson of the story," Bratlie says. "You can get bogged down in theory. His passion was the actual plays themselves, not the theory."

This is the second time Pro Rata has done a Brecht show. The company produced The Life of Galileo in 2009. "I always feel very strongly about supporting the playwright's vision. For Brecht, it is Brechtian theater: masks and puppets and all sorts of crazy stuff. If it's Neil Simon, it means hyperrealism and American. It's being true to that, whatever it is," Bratlie says.

Along with that is allowing the actors and other elements -- from music to setting --to take charge.

"I think a good director has an invisible hand. My job is so that the audience doesn't notice the directing," Bratlie says.


Good Woman of Setzuan
Saturday-Nov. 10
Intermedia Arts
2822 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.234.7135  or visit online.

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Intermedia Arts

2822 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408


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