Students bring ‘Good Woman’ to life

 

The UVM department of theatre is presenting Bertolt Brecht’s “The Good Woman of Setzuan” from Nov. 3-13 as a part of their 2011-2012 season.

The play begins with the arrival to Setzuan of three gods, who are seeking a place to stay. The prostitute, Shen Te, is the only person that extends kindness to them. In order to show their appreciation, the gods give her money to start her own tobacco shop. 

As the play unfolds, everyone in Setzuan starts taking advantage of Shen Te’s kindness and good fortune. She decides to create an alter ego, a male cousin, Shui Ta, to defend herself. 

At the ending of the play, Shen Te directly addresses the audience and asks them to use their own judgment to determine how a good person can ultimately survive in a world that contains selfishness and evil. 

Brecht employed unusual techniques such as this, and he also created a “jerky, episodic effect by using short scenes … with frequent shifts from prose to verse to song,” according to the playbill. 

The cast of “The Good Woman of Setzuan” consists of over 25 students, making it one of the largest casts a theatre department play has ever had. 

Behind the scenes, three students helped to shape the production. Senior Hannah Brosnan designed the scenery, senior Sarah Simmons served as production stage manager and senior Kate Fulop designed the costumes.

Designing the costumes for “Good Woman” was Fulop’s honors thesis project and the culmination of her studies at UVM

“It is the first large scale production and the first time my designs have come to life, and it was an incredible opportunity to take what I have learned in the classroom and put it on stage,” Fulop said.

Background research was required for Fulop to design the 24 costumes needed for the play. 

“Designing a Brechtian play is both a challenge and an exciting process since Brecht’s work is all about getting the audience to understand the message and meaning of the play, and the costumes must help support and convey that message,” Fulop said. 

Fulop had to take many aspects of the lives of the characters into consideration in order to create costumes that would effectively portray Brecht’s message.

“In the case of ‘Good Woman,’ Brecht uses the story of a struggling woman in Setzuan to make a statement about the dichotomy of good and evil in a capitalist world,” she said. 

Each individual character’s social class, religion and particular circumstances were important for her to understand while designing the costumes.

“For me, my favorite part and the most challenging part of the process of designing this show was in the research,” Fulop said. 

“The Good Woman of Setzuan” also presented another challenge. 

“The design of this production was especially difficult because the play was set in a place that doesn’t actually exist, as Setzuan is not a city but a province,” Fulop said.

Fulop thus had to be a bit creative, piecing together the setting of the play.

“My challenge became inventing a specific place where all these characters lived based on my research on China as a whole in the early 20th century,” she said. “My research focused on how Brecht, a German playwright in the 1930s, would have imagined China. The design of the play was a challenge of merging western and eastern influences and making the characters both destitute and haggard while still maintaining their dignity.”