When I woke up on Saturday, I didn't know I was going to be punched in the face by talent. But there it was, standing over me at 11pm like Cassius Clay beating up some white dude. Luckily, I only got punch drunk on beer and not on internal injuries. This talent came in the form of Strawdog's latest foray into theater no one should be able to get away with, The Good Soul of Szechuan, by Harold Brecht.
This show was directed by Shade Hawkins, and does it make you think of other plays? Maybe, but let's get to the gristly meat of the review, shall we? Nope, you say? Okay.
I started the evening at Holiday Club, and tried their beer. They serve it cold, and with no real bullshit "ID checks" or "dog-collars" so that was nice. My wife politely listened to my tirade about Jews owning the Fort Knox and using aliens to defeat the blacks, and we were politely escorted from the establishment when I used my fork to stab the jukebox. No Steely Dan, so fuck Holiday Club (mini-review: F).
We arrived at Strawdog, and immediately I noticed this crowd was ready for a real game-changer. Unfortunately, we were not there to see Avatar (mini-review: Mehhhhh.) so I started hitting on young theater women. Sarah Goeden was there, and she's pretty like a Japanese cartoon girl so I enjoyed her company. She smells like apricots and a rainstorm.
My wife and I sat in the front, and they had a live band playing Rock and Roll music as we all got to our seats! John Henry Roberts was belting out "Passenger", and that was pretty neat, because he looks like Iggy Pop and he should have taken off his goddammed shirt and smeared peanut butter on himself. But, I'm a purist.
So, the concept is the "let's dress in crap from a thrift store and do a play!" concept, which works really well for this play. It also worked for Red Noses, Cabaret, and the magic show I saw my neighbor's kids do last week. The show starts with all the actors telling you that the show was starting, which I can really appreciate because sometimes I don't know what the fuck is going on at theatre shows. All of the sudden the lights go out and you hear some kind of voice tell you to turn off your cell phone and I'm like "What kind of fresh hell is THIS?" So, at least they don't try and scare you at this theatre show.
The story is started by Wang (god damn it) who is played by Carmen Grisolia, a beefy and hairy wunderkind. He says that there are no good souls left in the province, and the gods need to come and help. Well, they show up alright. The gods tell him that if they can get a room for the night, they'll help. We all know this is pure nonsense, so we chuckle. He finally takes them to the protagonist of the story, Shen Te the hooker with a heart of gold. Shen Te is played by Michaela Petro and she is dressed in clothes that made me want to take off my wife's clothes. Miss Petro is a formidable actor with abilities above and beyond most people. She should win everything, because she's already won my heart and now I have to stop typing about this because my wife is reading over my shoulder and OH GOD CALL THE POLICE.
Whew, that was close.
So, the gods love Shen Te and give her some money to stop working the streets like a ho and open a tobacco shop. She does and then everyone starts to take advantage of her kindness, because she's just a sweet innocent in a land of assheads. Gosh, I hated those people taking advantage of her! Harold Brecht knew what he was doing, because he was making me feel things. One person taking Shen Te for a ride was Mrs. Chin, played by Shannon Hoag who makes me wish she was my sister so we could talk about boys and girls and relationships. Her comedy is a force.
The other jerks taking Shen Te for a fool leave some heroin behind in her store. This is foreshadowing. Shen Te's cousin, Shui Ta shows up and he is a real can-do kind of guy and starts running things like Jay-Z used to run the rap game. But...OH BOY! Shui Ta is is actually Shen Te! She's too kind and timid to get what she wants, but Shui Ta isn't! That's great. Until Shen Te meets Yang (god damn IT), played by John Henry Roberts who is just good at everything, let's admit it, and falls in love with him as he is attempting suicide. Well, turns out she should have just let that whiny little punk hang himself, because Yang only wants her for her money.
Things are going so bad for Shen Te, but then she just decides to be Shui Ta and SELL THAT DAMN SMACK FROM ACT ONE!!! Reversal! Now she's a heroin kingpin, and Yang is an addict. The gods show up again, and Brecht ends it all with irony! DAMN, Y'ALL!
Listen, this show is good sauce. I was clapping and laughing. There is a lot of talent who I didn't even mention yet: Paul Fagen is super as Shen Te's almost husband, and Amy Dunlap is strong and hilarious as one of the three gods. The ensemble is already Jeff Recommended in my brains, plus the actors/musicians are great. See, Shade also knew to make the songs in the show into rock songs and have the actors sing and play. You are literally getting so much bang for your bucks....a rock concert, really talented actor/artists, and a message about not being a heroin kingpin because that's bad. It's wrapped up in a package and distilled into a liquor and poured into a capsule which dissolves on your tongue and enters your bloodstream and alters your mind. And isn't that what theater is supposed to do when it doesn't suck so bad it makes you wonder why you keep going back? Answer: YES.
The Good Soul of Szechuan.
-Eric Roach, Anderson Lawfer