Wu Wei troupe to perform tonight

by Alexis Starke | 10/19/98 5:00am

The Wu Wei Theater of Frankfurt will perform Bertolt Brecht's "The Good Woman of Szechuan" October 19 and 20 in the Bentley Theater at 8:00 p.m. This year marks the hundredth anniversary of Brecht's birth and a worldwide celebration of his work.

Angelika Sieburg and Andreas Wellano founded the Wu Wei Theater of Frankfurt in 1990 after working together in epic theater since 1972. They perform classic and contemporary plays and write and create their own plays.

They named the theater for the Taosit principle of Wu Wei, the art of omitting, "to be able to achieve a state of doing by not doing." They describe their theater by quoting Alan Watts: "The purpose of art is to provoke our curiosity by giving us indications to look for ourselves." They work from the desire to stimulate the audience's participation to imagine and critically judge the performance's content.

"In our Epic Theater we, the actors produce our stories," they said, "Others, the active audience, react to our performance by forming or revising opinions, by contrasting their experiences with ours, by offering both positive and negative criticism."

During workshops, Wu Wei actors work at approaching a condition of alienation to find out what it means to gain distance to their roles. This technique allows them to experience new approaches to texts, new definitions of roles, and the mediations of individual and societal reality. With this constant change from one level of performance to another, "Our theater draws its vitality from the continuous surprises for actors and audience," Wu Wei said.

Bertolt Brecht shared Wu Wei Theater's desire for a theater that breaks from the tradition of realism for passive consumption and challenges the audience to think, analyze, and act.

Born in 1898 to an Augsburg bourgeois family, Brecht abandoned his medical studies after work in a military hospital generated his radical opposition to war and nationalistic attitudes. He turned to theater as the cultural space most appropriate for engaging the public in promoting changes within society.

Moving across Europe and North America, Brecht developed an epic theater with "Verfremdungseffeckt" or alienation device in which the audience maintains a distance that allows it to judge the actions of the characters and consider alternative plots and decisions. Brecht's characters articulate a self-consciousness that denies the audience the opium-induced stupor to which Brecht compared the effect of illusionistic theater.

"Der Gute Mensch von Sezuan," translated as "The Good Woman (or The Good Person) of Szechuan", denies the audience an ending with closure. It challenges the audience to struggle with the poor young prostitute Shen Te over the best course of action to take in a confusing world of needy greedy extended families, manipulative lovers and inadequate gods.

Shen Te says: "Your world is not an easy one, illustrious ones! When we extend our hand to a beggar, he tears it off for us/ When we help the lost, we are lost ourselves/ And so since not to eat is to die/ Who can long refuse to be bad?"

Wu Wei Theater and Bertolt Brecht wish to provoke the audience to begin to answer.

Only two actors play twenty-three parts on a set consisting of a table and chairs. Alternately reading, acting, and reverting to rehearsals, they deny the audience a submissive escape into illusion and demand the audience participates in constructing a new reality.