The upcoming Whittier College production of The Good Person of Sichuan explores the poignant themes of gender roles and the nature of goodness.
The Good Person of Sichuan, written by Bertolt Brecht, is staged in the genre of Epic Theatre. Brecht, the founder of Epic Theatre, described it as theater that provokes self-reflection and criticism. The story focuses on the protagonist Shen Te, a prostitute portrayed by senior Jocelyn Lopez. Shen Te is gifted a tobacco shop from the gods, portrayed by junior Jourdan Zelaya and sophomores Sydney Summers and Jacob Shore, for being a good person.
Being a good person doesn’t turn out to be as easy as Shen Te might have hoped, and she resorts to dressing up as an imaginary male cousin in order to obtain some respect and to run her business successfully.
“The play explores what it means to be good,” Summers said. “What is required of a person to leave their mark on the world in a positive way?” The values addressed by the play resonate with today’s society. “It brings to light a lot of stigmas that the world today has about gender,” Summers said. “When the main character Shen Te is portraying her female self, she is demonstrating her gentle side. When she is her masculine self, Shui Ta, she turns into a much harder version of herself who really has to crack the whip and do what she needs to survive.”
This is a play that is clearly relevant to today’s society, especially for college students. “People should go see this play because a lot of people don’t understand that there is such an assumption of what identifying as certain genders mean,” Summers said. “It goes back to gender equality, gender stigmas, and, of course, being good and finding that balance in our everyday lives.”
According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts (N.E.A), non-musical theater is falling out of mainstream media. The N.E.A found that while prices have increased, attendees have decreased by 4 million in the last 14 years.
Theater has historically been used as an outlet for commentary and communication, and this is something Brecht advocated, leading to his creation of Epic Theatre.
“[Epic Theatre is] a super broad and abstract performance,” Summers said. “You don’t feel like there is storyline-based support, but as you go on, you create this bond with the audience and the audience ends up supporting you. It’s freeing in a sense because it is so open to interpretation.”
“[The main character’s] biggest conflict is figuring out how to help herself without destroying others, and how to help others without destroying herself,” Summers adds.
Theater is a beautiful conversation between playwright, audience, and performers. With such poignant themes as these, this is definitely a performance you don’t want to miss. The performance dates will be on Oct. 20, 21, and 22 at 7 p.m. as well as 23 at 2 p.m. in the Ruth B. Shannon Center. Tickets are free for Whittier College students on Thursday night with presentation of ID.