Finding goodness — and laughs

The gods walk among us in The Good Soul of Szechaun, but whether they’re of help to us mortals is very much up for debate.

As the latest offering from the Thompson Rivers University Actor’s Workshop unfolds, three gods have come to the impoverished city of Szechuan on a research mission of sorts, looking for good people who’ve managed to follow their teachings.

That leads them to Shen Te (Brittany McCarthy), a good-hearted prostitute struggling to make the rent.

Moved by her suffering, the gods hand Shen Te a sizeable chunk of cash and enlist a local water seller (Dan Ondang) to watch over her and report back on her efforts to spread goodness throughout the city.

But, the gift backfires, saddling Shen Te with a series of loser boyfriends, grasping relatives, shady businesspeople, moral dilemmas and, eventually, a double identity.

Despite its depressing arc, the sprawling cast injects the play with a surprising amount of humour.

Rather than use traditional set pieces, director Heidi Verwey keeps many of the 30-odd cast members on stage at any time, playing shelving units, trees or houses.

The characters also act as a chorus for the main players, offering sympathetic groans, snickers or gasps to amusing effect.

The three gods (Brooke Ballam, Wyatt Purcha and Jessica Buchanan) turn what could easily be talking-head roles into three distinct personalities.

Some of the play’s funniest moments come as they straggle back and forth across the stage — sometimes only for a few seconds — increasingly dejected in their search for goodness.

As water-seller Wang, Ondang brings renewed energy to the stage whenever he’s on it.

His scenes with the gods — who come to him in dreams, demanding updates on Shen Te — are the play’s best, incorporating physical comedy and several makeup and costuming choices that would be a shame to spoil here.

McCarthy, too, succeeds at creating two distinct personalities for Shen Te and her alter-ego, the less-loveable, harder-hearted businessman Shui Ta.

It’s also worth mentioning the two leads can dance the heck out of the Korean pop hit Gangnam Style, though you’ll have to see the show yourself to understand why.

The Good Soul of Szechaun runs again this week from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 in the campus Black Box Theatre.

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased through the Kamloops Live Box Office, 1025 Lorne St., 250-374-5483, or by calling 250-377-610.

They’re also available from the box office in the Old Main Building.

Curtain is at 8 p.m.Finding goodness — and laughs

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