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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 30, 2004

University Theatres Opens Season Oct. 14 With 'Good Person of Setzuan'

The University Theatres 2004-2005 Mainstage season will begin with "The Good Person of Setzuan," Bertolt Brecht's provocative and entertaining moral parable with music, opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct.14, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theater Building.

Other performances will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 15-16 and 21-23, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 17 and 24.

"The Good Person of Setzuan," written in exile during World War II, is one of Brecht's most popular and widely produced plays because of both its involving story and its universal themes. It is a modern parable about basic human challenge -- how to be a good person in an imperfect, unjust, money-centered, class-divided society.

The central character of Brecht's parable is Shen Te, a Chinese prostitute who is the only person in the town of Setzuan who will give three gods a room for the night. The gods have come to earth to find one good person, in order to justify our world's existence to their fellow deities.

Through her story Brecht introduces many people in Setzuan and reveals the town's turmoil, poverty and corruption. Their interactions suggest fundamental moral and political questions including: What is goodness? What does it mean to be good? Can a person remain good in a world that repeatedly rewards under-handed and selfish acts? Is goodness possible in a world dominated by injustice and inequality?

John Fuegi wrote in "The Essential Brecht," "The profound metaphysical question of why evil is permitted, indeed encouraged, in the world has seldom been asked with such force."

Sound serious? Not so fast, says director Carol MacVey, a faculty member of the UI Department of Theatre Arts. "We intend to be thought-provoking, of course, but we are also having a lot of fun with a wonderful story about the circus that is human society," she says.

"From the moment the audience enters the theater, they will know that this is no ordinary show. Mabie Th1eatre has been redesigned, with the stage extending into the audience to create a more immediate theater-in-the-round feeling, a design that is the touchstone of the whole production. And we will be selling popcorn in the performance space.

"People mistakenly think of Brecht as dark and grim and heavy-handed, but they won't leave this show thinking that."

In his playbill notes, playwriting graduate student Chris Leyva wrote, "When Brecht created his plays, he always imagined them being performed in the old music halls, places that were stuffed full of rough and rowdy patrons. He found that the theatre that he was surrounded by was too stuffy, too formal.

"Brecht wanted a different kind of relationship with the audience, one that was more like the atmosphere you would find at a boxing match, where audience members could root for certain characters and get involved in the production."

MacVey adds, "Audiences have to adjust when they watch Brecht: In many theater pieces music and lights underscore the emotional impact of a scene as it ends and sets the tone for the scene to come. But Brecht deliberately avoids these melodramatic manipulations. He wants the songs to make the audience think about issues the play is promoting, not be swept away by melody and sentiment.

"Many of his productions were lit with bright white light, eliminating manipulation by mood. In fact, he usually exposed the source of the lights so audiences could see the actual instruments. He wanted the audience to see all the tricks of theater -- expose the magic, so to speak.

"Another way Brecht subverted the conventional dramatic experience was to tell the audience what was going to happen in the scene so they wouldn't be focused on plot or suspense but rather on the larger social issues the scene was promoting."

Other artistic contributors to "The Good Person of Setzuan" include Leiko Fuseya, set design; Jenny Nutting Kelchen, costume design; Bryon Winn, lighting design; Keith Capps, video design Anton Jones, composer; and Tom Truss, choreography.

The University Theatres production of "The Good Person of Setzuan" is cosponsored by the UI Department of German.

Tickets are $17; UI student, senior citizen & youth $8, and may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office. Tickets are also available at a substantial discount as part of a Division of Performing Arts subscription package. Information is available from the box office of

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to 319-353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,