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The Good Person of Setzuan

This elaborate production begs the whopping question of your entire existence.
Tuesday Jul 10, 2007.     By Adam Fendelman
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Think of it as the oriental Garden of Eden in treacherous times.

"The Good Person of Setzuan" by the Big Picture Group probes what it means to be a good person, and whether you can resist gorging the sumptuous apple in a corrupt society. With performances at the Athenaeum Theatre, the show bucks the storied Chicago trend of teensy casting, rudimentary costuming and primitive props. Instead, nearly 30 actors and crew members formulate this multimedia-injected, modern-day interpretation inked by the legendary Bertolt Brecht.

The story is set in Beijing, where a prostitute-turned-angel (or is she?) offers asylum to three nomadic gods. They reward her with money to procure a humble but monopolizing tobacco shop. The gods, who in this version are comically transformed into the president, his wife and Condoleezza Rice, judge the human race on its quest to unearth a good person. The deities truck around on toy Hummers; clearly the leader of the trio, the president's facial gestures complete his distinctive shtick and serve as refreshing comic relief.

His peers stand out less, which mirrors a striking trend with cast members. Because the show is inundated with so many characters, cameos and little doubling, some are less developed than others. Two powerful female leads, though, carry the story into thoughtful time well spent.

With hints of Enron and WorldCom scandals swirling in your brain and two jovial variations of recent rock ballads, your two hours sitting stationary leave you reflecting on your own life, how happy you are with it and if you’re more angel than demon.

"The Good Person of Setzuan" runs through July 29 at the Athenaeum Theatre; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $10-$15.


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