“What does it mean to be a good person?”
This is the question Director Greg Wallendal hopes audience members will ask themselves after leaving Beloit Memorial High School’s upcoming production “The Good Person of Sichuan.”
“I want people asking themselves if they’re a good person, think about how they treat people, how they treat people less fortunate,” Wallendal said. “The play addresses many issues and it gives us a lot to work with from an educational perspective and entertainment perspective.”
The play runs Friday, Nov. 7 and Saturday Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. It continues the following weekend with a Friday and Saturday performance, as well as a Sunday performance at 2 p.m. Seating is limited, so tickets are only available at the box office 45 minutes before each show.
Wallendal described the stage as an “intimate setting,” meaning the audience will be on stage with the actors.
Based in China, the play begins with three gods coming to earth to find at least one good person to save all of humanity. They travel from town to town, not finding anyone, until they come to Sichuan where a water seller helps them find shelter from a prostitute. Shen Te gives up her livelihood to take care of the three gods, and in return she is given money to start a new business and get a fresh start.
But because she is such a good person and sees all the people in need around her, she gives away all her profits, nearly running it into the ground after the first day. So, she leaves the village and returns disguised as a male cousin. She becomes the shrewd businessman, foregoing any generosity and turning everyone away who can’t pay. Which brings up the ethical question, said Wallendal.
“Can you be a good person and be successful at the same time?”
Wallendal said he chose the show because he likes “meatier” plays.
“The kids can dig deeper and it’s a better learning experience than just learning lines,” he said. “They can tackle big ideas,” he said.
The cast was instructed about the time the play was written in to give them context when Wallendal brought in a translator who also taught students about the history of the play, so students like senior Kylie Thompson could work more with character development.
“It helped me realize that this was an actual thing happening,” Thompson said. “It helped me tap into the suffering of the characters.”
Senior Chris Ogden agreed.
“It’s really made me take a look at how the world was at this time, the interactions between people,” Ogden said. “It also made me think about the separation between the wealthy and people in poverty.”
Senior Ashly Holloway, a first-timer in the theatre department and who plays one of the gods, said the play has pushed her as an actor after learning about the history and being challenged by Wallendal.
“It (the history) helps us grasp the meaning of the character rather than just ‘I’m a god and I say these lines,’ it’s a lot deeper than that,” she said.
Students said they hope people will leave the play not with answers but with questions.
“It doesn’t answer the question of what it means to be a good person,” said senior Chase Morgan. “It explores different possibilities and the audience has to formulate their own answers. It’s interesting to see the ripple effects theatre can have on a community.”
Tickets are $4 for students and seniors and $7 for adults. Seating is limited (just over 150 seats) so arrive early. For more information, visit the Beloit Memorial Theatre Department’s Facebook page.