Quote of the Day: When you read the cast bios in the program for a Ten Thousand Things Theater production, you get more than a mini resumé of the actor’s previous productions, you get a bit of insight into who they are and why they do what they do. TTT asks, “Why do theater?” The answers vary from it being an important way to connect with other people to the collective effort of storytelling. Retiring Director Michelle Hensley says, At its best, theater is like fun church for me – a place to go to try to figure out life. A place to connect with other live human beings and discover what we share in common. Rehearsals are, for me, kind of a sacred space too – a place to practice treating people with kindness, respect, generosity and as much hilarity and laughter as possible. Her words really resonate with me.
Artistic Director Michelle Hensley is retiring after this production. Her contribution to theater and her innovative way of bringing live performances to people everywhere is inspiring. Ten Thousand Things tours each of their productions to prisons, homeless shelters, women’s centers, community centers, to locations both inside the metro and into the rural areas. I was thrilled to see their production of Electra in little Emily, MN just up the road from where I live in the Brainerd lakes area. When they were in Emily, I asked if they needed to rehearse in each space they visited. They don’t because they set up their acting space as theater in the round (the audience surrounding the actors) the same way every time they perform. All you need is a space big enough for an 8 x 10 set up of chairs.
My schedule is rather tight this Spring as I have two boys graduating from Brainerd High School this year. I’m coming to the end of my daily parenting career, and I wanted to be home with the boys as much as possible. So, I haven’t been to as much theater in the metro as usual. I really wanted to see Michelle Hensley’s final production because I admire her work so much. I have her book, All the Lights On, and use it as a model for teaching and directing Youth Theater Workshops in the Brainerd area. All of her productions are outstanding, thoughtful, inclusive, entertaining, and well worth the drive to the metro.
I’m so glad that I was able to sneak down to the Open Book in Minneapolis over Memorial weekend to catch this show. I don’t think I’ve ever connected with a character as much as I did with Shen Te, played brilliantly by Joy Dolo. She also plays her alter-ego, a male “cousin” Shui Ta. As a woman she is kept low. She has to sell herself to even exist. When the Gods arrive looking for “one good person,” Wang, the water seller (Elise Langer) points them to Shen Te who is good, but might not be considered “morally good” by the Gods. When they award her money that will get her out of her poverty, and profession, she opens a legit tobacco store. Quickly, others who know her and need her help show up. Out of the goodness of her heart, she helps them, but at a loss to her own ability to take care of herself. Some people think she should marry for money, then she’ll be able to live a good life. She wants to marry someone she finds attractive, whom she loves, but he isn’t necessarily what he seems to be either.
The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertholt Brecht challenges us to define what is “good.” Is it how you live? Is it how you make a living? Is it sacrificing what you have for others, even at the detriment of your own well-being? How can a woman be both strong and prosperous, generous and caring, and also take care of herself? People were taking advantage of her until she created a male cousin, Shui Ta, to come in and demand that people pick up their own slack, work for what they receive, and not let them cheat his “cousin” out of her hard earned money. The feminine part of Shen Te was kind and “good,” but at a disadvantage. The masculine side of Shui Ta was stronger and firmer and more self-protecting.
Michelle Hensley has adapted this classic play for her style of theater. It is relevant and poignant. The cast is outstanding. The staging is alive and active, even interactive. Each actor plays many roles, moves sparse, yet fantastic, set pieces in and out. Peter Vitale provides music and sound-effects from one corner. Everything flows together like a fine-tuned musical ensemble.
The final performances for The Good Person of Szechwan will be at the Open Book in Minneapolis, MN. Closing June 3, 2018. Marcela Lorca will be taking over as Artistic Director of Ten Thousand Things Theater for their 2018-2019 season which includes Scapin by Moliere, directed by Randy Reyes, Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Marcela Lorca, and The Sins of Sor Juana by Karen Zacarias, directed by Marcela Lorca.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: When have you felt the strongest, stood up for yourself, and also showed compassion to others?
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Wow! Your kiddos are graduating? Wow. Time is going by way to fast.
I wish I lived closer, I would tag along to the plays you review, with you.
Teresa, I’d love to go to the theater with you. And, yes, my babies are all grown up. Sigh.