UNB professor Jens Neumann’s first year German language class recently put on an excellent, and timely, production of Bertolt Brecht’s play Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan (“The Good Person of Szechwan”).
Bertolt Brecht was a German playwright and a communist. He was a supporter of the proletariat and Stalin; he was against Hitler and the Nazi Regime and he was also against capitalism. It was his firm belief that all evil comes from money and how human beings deal with money, and how money brings out the “ugly side” in all of us. This way of thinking can be found in Brecht’s work Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan (“The Good Person of Szechwan”), which was written during Brecht’s period of exile following his flight from Nazi Germany.
Three gods have come down to earth on their quest to find good people, and their ways have led them to a small city in China called Szechuan. There, out of all people, only the kind-hearted sex worker Shen Te is willing to provide them shelter. Pleased that they have found their good person, the gods give Shen Te a thousand silver dollars and she decides to open a small tobacco shop in order to do good. However, it seems doing good and surviving are not compatible in this poverty-stricken town. The premise is rather simple; the language is plain; the characters are so ordinary that they are easily relatable and the small-scale intimacy gives the story an effortless way to connect with the themes.
The play’s prologue was performed by Neumann’s first year German language class, which did an excellent job. First of all, it is important to mention that almost all of the actors were English native speakers, except for Neumann himself and Desiree who played Shen Te. Therefore, it is even more remarkable that they succeeded in memorizing and performing this play in German, since I imagine it is difficult to act out something you do not even fully understand.
Ana Laura Bianco did an outstanding job as Wang, the water seller who tries to find accommodation for the gods. One might even wonder if it is really her first year learning German. Besides the obvious great language skills, she delivered an impressive acting performance that really engaged the audience in the story, which is particularly important as the viewers did not necessarily understand the language. The overall cast in general did a great job—it was clear that they were passionate about this project and had a lot of fun working in it.
Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan still has immense significance in today’s era and time, since the themes of this play are still relevant. The play illustrates with persuasive clarity the idea that goodness is simply impossible in a corrupt world. Even if you try to be the best human possible, society won’t let you.