Strawdog Theatre Company presents
THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN
At 3829 N. Broadway Street
Written by Bertolt Brecht
Translated by David Harrower
Directed by Shade Murray
Thru May 29th
Running Time: Two and a half hours includes a ten minute intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
God gives a hooker money to buy a tobacco shop. She turns cross-dresser to control the drug trade. Strawdog Theatre Company presents THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN, the classic fable by Bertolt Brecht translated by David Harrower. Three gods travel the earth in search of human kindness. They find it in a good-hearted prostitute. She receives ‘a gift from the gods’ to ease her financial woes and as a reward for her benevolence. Her sudden wealth and generous reputation attracts sordid squatters demanding support. To deal with the users, she goes cruel to be kind disguised as her mean, male cousin. Based on a traditional parable, this production of THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN zests it up with a comedic cast and boils it over with a live band. Under the direction of Shade Murray, this Szechuan dish is bold, unique and thoroughly satisfying!
From the first note, the band establishes the high energy ambiance guided by music director composer Mike Przygoda. With the play’s multiple characters, the band is also in the ensemble. Murray coordinates the musician to actor to musician seamlessly with the aid of a hat or shirt. He also chooses to exploit the storytelling aspect of THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN by having the cast announce scenes and read stage directions out loud. The hilarious results help the audience sort out the fast-paced action of the eighteen member ensemble.
As both the hooker with the heart of gold and the drug dealing cousin, Michaela Petro plays good and bad great! Petro shows incredible range exhibiting compassion, cruelty, infatuation and desperation. She has been blessed by the gods with acting skills, comedic timing and she can sing. Thank gods! Carmine Grisolia (Wang) is the water bearer looking for good in all the wrong places. Liaison to the divinity, Grisolia narrates the good soul quest with down-to-earth humor and minstrel quality. With limited lines and dusting in the background, Shannon Hoag (Mrs. Shin) is always on! She zings the punch line with one word or look. Anne Sheridan Smith (Mrs. Yang) has a cluster of small distinct roles as innkeepers and gods beckoner. She notably goes deliciously ‘mother of the groom’ pushy and calculating in the wedding scene. John Henry Roberts (Yang Sun) woos a hooker with charming dreams of running away together. Later, he turns gold-digging cad singing about when pigs fly. Paced to perfection by Murray, the entire ensemble adds to the flavor of this robust Szechuan delight!
The title THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN raises all kinds of preconceived notions of an ancient Asian parable with fishermen and rice paddies. This production of THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN isn’t your mama’s “Joy Luck Club.” In fact, other than the Asian names of the characters, this production could be easily called “The Good Soul of Chicago.” It has all the key ingredients for a second city comedy: script, direction, cast. Put a pickle on it and this THE GOOD SOUL OF SZECHUAN is sure to be a Chicago-style favorite!
A good soul from Indianapolis, Cridlin describes the show as “entertaining, witty, hipster-y.”
WAITING FOR THE SHOW
Embracing an Asian themed evening, we dine at Jai-yen, 3736 N. Broadway. Blocks away from Strawdog and BYOB, Jai-yen is pan-Asian dishes, with a Japanese cuisine specialty. We order the crab rangoon to fulfill our Asian obligation and then order up three sushi rolls. The crab ragoon is six fried dumplings of delicious. Emphasis is on the dumpling because the “winged” extra fried part is missing and the taste is all crab cream cheese goodness. The maki rolls are a combination of tuna and shrimp. Trying to be good, we stay away from the pricy specialty rolls that tend to be bigger and better. We end up being bad by ordering a fourth roll to satisfy our palates. And bad is right, the cucumber-shrimp roll is unremarkable and a little disappointing. The bill comes and Cridlin insists on paying. It’s a ‘gift from the gods’ that I accept with pleasure!