April 2–21, 2024

Dramaturgy: The Good Person of Setzuan

March 28, 2024

A note from Dramaturg, Kellie Mecleary

The Good Person of Setzuan is one of the plays that German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote while in exile in the late 1930s, while he watched from afar as Hitler reigned terror across Europe. It was a dark time for him, and for his country, and some of that darkness finds its way into this play, which asks whether one can be good in a broken world. It is a rich, complicated text, full of pleasure and rage, big questions and big feelings.  

Brecht intentionally set Good Person in China, a land he assumed would be unknown and exotic to his audience members, so they could have some distance from the material and consider it intellectually. For him, this distance was essential in ensuring audience members might walk away transformed by the work – motivated to change the world for the better. A better world was, for Brecht, a Marxist world: one where Capitalism fell and equality reigned. These political and theatrical ideas formed the basis of the theatrical style he championed, Epic Theater.  

 Limited by his own ego, background (he grew up wealthy), and cultural circumstances, Brecht’s ideology was at times conspicuously absent from his life choices. He had multiple romantic partners who he expected to be wholly faithful to him, brilliant women who helped him write some of his best and most successful plays (including this one). He romanticized China based on his limited understanding of its philosophies and culture, utilizing his half-absorbed sense of Peking Opera and the work of performer Mei Lanfang to cement his acting theories. He perpetuated the Western sense that China was an exotic otherland to achieve his own artistic goals.  

In our production, director Justin Jain, who is Asian American, honors the strengths of Good Person while implicitly critiquing the cultural appropriation that pervades the play. He offers a pan-Asian world invaded by white men, in a way resembling the actions and effects of American Imperialism on his family’s country, the Philippines. Building upon the societal problems Brecht is already pointing to, he asks us to consider the impact our society has on Asian bodies.  

Below you’ll find resources that offer some context for the play as well as the production’s approach. Here’s hoping it proves as complicated, unsettling, and pleasurable as the play you saw, or plan to see. Thank you for taking the time to dig deeper today.  

-Kellie Mecleary, Production Dramaturg 

Kellie Mecleary




A Wilma podcast, with production dramaturg Kellie Mecleary and director Justin Jain.

Vox’s Today Explained podcast, 4-part series entitled “Blame Capitalism:”