By Peter Evans
The trick, it’s been said, of putting on a Bertolt Brecht play is not so much to get the audience to care about the performance, but to think about it.
If that’s the case, then Ryerson Theatre School’s production of Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan is a success, because I think it’s a great show.
Directed by Liza Balkan, the show ran Nov. 16 to Nov. 27 at the Abrams Stage (44 Gerrard St.). Set in the Chinese village of Setzuan, the play tells the story of three gods who have come to earth in search of one truly good person. They find her in Shen Te, a downtrodden prostitute with a good heart.
With a little money from the benevolent gods, Shen Te is able to set up a decent life and open a tobacco shop. But her sweet nature makes her vulnerable to the freeloaders around her, and she is forced to impersonate her heartless cousin Shui Ta to survive in a cruel, capitalist world. Made up entirely of graduating-year theatre students, the cast is solid.
I was impressed with the high level of talent on the whole, although there are a few notable standouts. Adrian Desalaiz is memorable as Wong, the water-seller, and Hayley Gratto steals the show as Mrs. Shin. There is an inherent challenge in playing comedic roles, which can easily be played over-the-top and spoil the humour, but Gratto doesn’t.
Her hilarious take on nosy Mrs. Shin is just right. The costumes and set design are also well done. The minimalist set makes for versatile scene changes. Set designer Jennifer Patrick gets a lot out of a little, and I loved the innovative use of signboards throughout to represent things like cigarette smoke, rain and even some peripheral characters.
It’s a nice touch and a gamble that paid off. Some of the voices, however, are less than stellar. The play involves several musical numbers, and the disparities in volume and power among the voices in the cast are a bit off-putting.
None of it was too terrible, but at times the singing is a blemish on the face of an otherwise well-executed production.