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Bernadette Sonnenbichler’s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan by Bertolt Brecht

Der gute Mensch von Sezuan

Der gute Mensch von Sezuan

Der gute Mensch von Sezuan, completed 1941. Written by Bertold Brecht, probably in collaboration with Margarete Steffin and/or Ruth Berlau. Directed by Bernadette Sonnenbichler.

Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus, Großes Haus, Row 15, Seat 424.

(This post originally appeared, in slightly different form, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)

I’m not Brecht’s greatest fan, to put it mildly, and the first and only F grade I ever got in a written test on Modern German Lit was me comprehensively misinterpreting Galileo—and a lengthy remark by him on his own play—in Brecht’s favor. Oh, well.

However, Der gute Mensch von Sezuan packs an enormous, sustained punch with respect to its theme and motifs; it’s among the most brilliant instances of the kind of “epic theater” Brecht helped to establish (not an easy term, go look it up); and it still manages to be funny, even hilariously funny, in the tradition of Shakespeare’s comedy of errors.

Now, Bernadette Sonnenbichler’s production: it was totally awesome. The actors too were absolutely fantastic, and the one playing “pilot” Yang Sun (J. F. Leonhardi) seemed to channel at times Gríma Wormtongue, at times Gollum with relish. (My perception might be colored here by the fact that I watched the entire Ring trilogy the other day.) David Hohmann’s abstract but highly impressive stage design never let you forget—in line with the “epic theater” concept mentioned above—that you’re attending a “play,” not a simulation of reality. Paul Dessau’s score and songs, edited/updated for piano, cello, and electric guitar by Tobias Vethake, was interesting and spellbinding throughout. And then, wow, Endo Tadashi’s Butō choreography. It just blew me away.

After the final line was delivered, the ensemble received the standing ovations and enthusiastic cheers they absolutely deserved.

On a side note, the preceding introduction (I didn’t catch his name) recounted everything from the play’s first tentative sketches in 1930 up to its first stage performance in 1943 in exhaustive detail, but somehow neglected to mention Brecht’s possible collaboration with Margarete Steffin and/or Ruth Berlau, disputed in either case but not at all unlikely.

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