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November 5, 2001

UMBC Department of Theatre presents The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht

The Good Woman of SetzuanBaltimore, MD (October 22, 2001) -- UMBC's Department of Theatre presents The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht. Performances open on November 30th and run through December 9th. The production is directed by Christopher Owens, with set and costume design by Elena Zlotescu, lighting and sound design by Terry Cobb, music direction by Ron Barnett, and vocal coaching by Lynn Watson.

About the Play
When the gods descend to search for a "good person" living in pre-World War II China, they have great difficulty finding one person obeying their Book of Rules in these troubled times. Nonetheless, a prostitute gives them shelter and they reward her goodness with enough money to change her ways. Unfortunately, the shop she purchases with their help results in more problems than solutions. Director Christopher Owens calls Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan a "culture clash." "Brecht used this setting to highlight how Western capitalism was at odds with Eastern ethics -- that you cannot help your fellow man and serve the almighty dollar at the same time." Owens commented. "His answer was the Marxist ideal and the communist economic system, but the challenge of producing Brecht today is dealing with the failure of that model, the fact that most of those economic and political systems have collapsed."

Owens, along with scenic and costume designer Elena Zlotescu, have expanded the space and time constraints of Brecht's script not only to include elements of pre-WWII China, but also to suggest that this culture clash is not just representative of that place and time period. "The successful cultures and economic systems today are those that find a synthesis, a way to combine their older religious and ethical traditions with the global economy. China, after decades of struggle, is now an interesting model of this transition, where people do not find it unusual to see an ancient temple next to a McDonald's," he remarked. As the play unfolds, some characters adopt a more western appearance and various modern properties (cell phones, etc.) suggesting that we have moved further forward in time as well. The scenic elements also suggest that we could be in Setzuan but could also be in some other less developed part of the world. "Obviously, the greatest clash of cultures at the moment exists in the Middle East, where encroaching Western elements are met with great resistance by the existing society. Without changing Brecht's text, we wanted our scenic elements to allow the audience to envision the same sort of situation taking place there," Owens explained.

The Good Woman of Setzuan is performed in mask, a particular area of interest for Owens, who trained with one of the world's foremost mask teachers, Pierre LeFevre, while at the Juilliard School. "The years I spent with Pierre were invaluable, utilizing both neutral and character/commedia mask work in a variety of performance settings. I have since used mask work as both a rehearsal technique in many classic plays and in performance if the show is particularly suited to that discipline. In this play, Brecht suggests the use of mask for one character, but Elena and I both thought it made more sense for the entire cast to use mask. This allows us to accomplish 36 characters with 22 actors, and also helps with a style of performance that incorporates a variety of techniques of the Chinese theatre. Like Brecht, we borrow from the traditional Chinese theatre what is most useful to us, and adapt it to the particular needs of this story."

New York and regional theatre composer/musical director Ron Barnett was commissioned to write an original score for this production. His score tracks the musical progress of the script from its Oriental roots at the beginning to a clearly Western musical sound by the end.

Christopher Owens, director
Christopher Owens is the newest member of the faculty of UMBC's Department of Theatre, having spent 18 years as head of three different professional regional theatres and the last two years as a visiting assistant professor at Indiana University and Dickinson College. He has staged over 100 professional theatre productions, including the regional premiere of David Mamet's Oleanna, a Seattle production of Brecht's Threepenny Opera and a broad array of material from Shakespeare to Peter Shaffer. As a writer, he developed two adaptations from Dickens: A Christmas Carol and A Dickens Christmas Collation (both of which have had multiple professional productions), and the book and lyrics for the original musical Steem with composer Ron Barnett. In summer 2001, he staged and served as artistic advisor for An Exception Should Be Made, a new play about William Saroyan that premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and will lead off the Saroyan Festival in California in March 2002.

November 30, December 1, 7 & 8 at 8 pm
December 2, 6 & 9 at 4 pm
Preview: November 29, 8 pm
All performances in the UMBC Theatre.
Post performances discussions on December 2 & 8

General admission: $10.00.
UMBC faculty and staff: $8.00.
Students and seniors: $5.00.
Preview: $3.00.

Telephone and web
Box office: (410) 455-2476
UMBC Artsline (24 hour recorded message): (410) 455-ARTS
Media inquiries only: (410) 455-3370
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--From Baltimore and points north, proceed south on I-95 to exit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the UMBC Theatre.
--From I-695, take Exit 12C (Wilkens Avenue) and continue one-half mile to the entrance of UMBC at the roundabout intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Hilltop Road. Turn right and follow signs to the UMBC Theatre.
--From Washington and points south, proceed north on I-95 to Exit 47B. Take Route 166 toward Catonsville and then follow signs to the UMBC Theatre.

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Posted by dwinds1 at November 5, 2001 12:00 AM