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the good woman of setzuan


            
            
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             Needy and greedy prevail in Brecht's mythical town .
             By Geoffrey Himes .
             Because it requires such a large cast and because it criticizes the very possibility of a happy ending, Bertolt Brecht's "The Good Woman of Setzuan" is seldom staged, and then only in colleges or subsidized regional theaters. .
             The current production at the UMBC Theatre -- which runs through Sunday -- is seriously flawed but not fatally so. Enough of it works to provide the welcome chance to see one of the century's greatest plays for four bucks. .
             Writing in Scandinavia at the end of the 1930s, Brecht set the play in a mythical town in the Chinese province of Setzuan during the same years. There has been grumbling that it is impossible to be good in such an evil world and that religious rules should thus be dismissed as unrealistic. Stung by such criticism, three gods have come down to the Earth looking for one good person who might rebut their critics. .
             In Setzuan, the gods are greeted by Wong, a rag-tag water-seller who lives in a sewer. Asked to find a good person to give the gods shelter, Wong implores his neighbors, only to be rudely rebuffed. In frustration, he turns to Shen Te, a kindly prostitute. Relieved to have finally found a good person, the gods give Shen Te enough money to start her own tobacco shop. .
             Shen Te is quickly set upon by the town's needy and greedy, who all want a piece of her new prosperity. In her kindness, she tries to oblige them all and is soon called "The Angel of the Slums." She is also being driven back into the depths of poverty. .
             To protect her own survival, she dresses up like a male businessman and introduces herself as Shui Ta, Shen Te's distant cousin. Shui Ta's hard-hearted business decisions save Shen Te's shop and allow her philanthropy to continue. .
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