The Good Woman of Setzuan


The Good Woman of Setzuan

On November 19th, 2016 at 2pm, Almasi presented a staged reading of The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht at the Zimbabwe German Society as part of Almasi’s Staged Reading Series. Participants included experienced Zimbabwean actors under the direction of Almasi Associate Artistic Director, Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa. The Good Woman of Setzuan is a play set in China, in the province of Setzuan (Sichuan), between the two World Wars. The title character, Shen Te, is a poor but warm-hearted prostitute who agrees to shelter three gods who appear in the city one night. Shen Te is rewarded for her hospitality with money. She purchases a tobacco shop but quickly discovers that her kinsfolk and other customers take advantage of her kindness. To save her business, Shen Te adopts an alter ego, dressing as a man. While assuming the role of her tough, pragmatic cousin, Shui Ta, she is able to exact just payment from her customers and is disheartened that she cannot receive the same respect as a woman. The Good Woman of Setzuan raises the question of morality in Western culture by enacting a dilemma of goodness versus survival. The play deals with the theme of Historical Materialism or the idea that a society’s morality is determined by its economic system. While the play encompasses two basic philosophies: the Chinese yin/yang and Marxist dialectical materialism, it also raises the question of the place of women in a society driven by a repressive ideology.


Caroline Mashingaidze-Zimbizi
Michael Kudakwashe
Musa Saruro
Charlene Latoya Mangweni
Stewart Sakarombe
Brighton Ndlovu

Director | Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa
Stage Manager | Prudence Kalipinde
Operations Manager | Kudakwashe Kanembirira



Negotiated Spaces

Since I started taking part in the Almasi staged reading series, I have realized the kinds of stories I am interested in working on. These are stories of struggle, whether physical or metaphorical, which really depict the human condition and prompt us to think beyond the surface of our everyday. When I first read The Good Woman of Setzuan, I was struck by how Bertolt Brecht brought so many issues to the foreground without prescribing what should be or what can be. Instead, the play asks question after question about economics, morality and political ideology and their contribution to the human condition in western civilizations. In his time, Brecht realized the power of the theatre and sought to harness that power in bringing pertinent dialogue of his time to the foreground. Yet, I would be remiss if I did not talk about some of the controversies that surrounded the life and work of this brilliant playwright. One of these is the fact that while Bertolt Brecht’s 1955 published collected works do not acknowledge Margarete Selfin as collaborator on The Good Woman of Setzuan, it is believed that she had a large hand in the development of the play. Ruth Berla, a frequent Brecht collaborator, is also believed to have been involved in the play. Produced in 1943, published in 1953, the play has different versions and titles including “Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan”, “The Good person of Szechwan” and “The Good Soul of Szechuan”; a true reflection of Brecht’s practice of rewrites and adaptation. For the Almasi staged reading series, I worked on the Eric Bentley translation, first performed in 1985 in Britain.