Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pan Pan, 'The Good House of Happiness': Send in the Brechtsperts

A bleak version of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Szechuan loses its satirical edge. Photo: Gavin Quinn.

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival 
Oct 13-15

A quick review of The Good House of Happiness by Eugene O’Brien and Gavin Quinn coming up just as soon as I take a 15 minute break …

Good business and good morals are mutually exclusive, or so Bertolt Brecht seemed to think. The woman at the centre of his parable play, The Good Person of Szechwan, does her best to keep a fledgling business afloat while retaining her kind nature. It literally splits her in two, inventing for herself a vicious male disguise to survive.

Curiously, the starting point for Eugene O’Brien and Gavin Quinn’s new adaptation for Pan Pan seems to be the play’s casting history; German performers played Chinese roles at its 1943 premiere. This arch version finds a group of Asian players rehearsing Brecht’s play, led by an eccentric director (Andrew Bennett). One actor (Ashely Xie) has journeyed to Ireland to follow her destiny but she must prove herself to her father by running a successful restaurant.

A committed cast, with Brechtian face-front delivery, evoke Asian people’s experiences living in Dublin. Sordid conditions may be interpreted from two pole-dancers’ risqué displays and Si Schroeder’s trip hop music. Racial tensions between Chinese, Mongolian, Korean and Irish individuals come to light, as does cynical materialism. “I would rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle,” they sing.

This all comes across so bleak, the satirical edge of Brecht’s play seems lost. It’s also difficult to fathom directors Gavin Quinn and Aedín Cosgrove’s decisions on what we’re prevented from seeing. Not only are the two side seating banks of the Smock Alley Theatre blocked out, but the riveting Xie gets a song at the end that a non-Chinese-speaking audience mightn’t follow.

What did everybody else think? 

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