«THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN Note We will be working on a version of the play that Brecht wrote while living in America in the late 40’s, generally ...»
THE GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN
We will be working on a version of the play that Brecht wrote while living in America in
the late 40’s, generally called the “Santa Monica” version. If you have read the original
“Zurich” script, you will see that this version is shorter and faster; it eliminates a few
characters and a couple of scenes. The plot is also different in that Shu Ta chooses to set
up a drug business rather than a tobacco factory. Brecht felt this version of the story cast a harsher light on Shui Ta’s choices and was also more finely tuned to his new historical and local circumstances.
This is a draft of a new translation. It is still very much in-progress.
Prelude A street in the capital qf Szechuan province.
WANG I sell water here in the capital of Szechwan. It's a tough business. When water's scarce, I have to go miles to get it. And when there's plenty, I’m lucky if I make a few cents. (To make matters worse) The whole country’s broke (bust). People are saying it's gotten so bad only the Gods can help us now. Luckily, I heard from a traveling salesman that some very senior Gods are on their way and could be passing through Szechwan any day now. Apparently Heaven's upset by all the complaints it's been getting.
I've been keeping an eye out here on the edge of the city for three days now, hoping I'll be the first to welcome them. 'Cause you can be sure I won't get the chance later on - they'll be mobbed, with the powerful first in line. I just hope I recognize them. They may not all arrive together. It’s possible they could turn up one at a time so as not to attract attention.
He looks over at some workers passing by.
That can't be them. They’re just knocking off work. Look how bent their shoulders are from carrying heavy loads. And her, she’s no God, she’s got ink all over her fingers. At most a secretary at the local cement factory.
Two more people walk past And those two - no way they're Gods. They have mean-looking faces, like they’re used to beating people, which Gods don't need to do.
But wait a minute - what about those three, over there... now we're in business! They’re well fed, look like they've never worked a day in their lives, and there’s dust on their shoes – they must’ve traveled many miles. It’s them! Divinities, I'm Wang, the water seller, at your service. (He throws himself to the ground.) FIRST GOD (delighted) Have you been expecting us?
WANG (offering them water) For a while now. But only I knew you’d come.
FIRST GOD We require a lodging room for the night.
SECOND GOD. Do you know of one?
WANG One! Hundreds! Divinities, the whole city's at your feet. Choose your address!
The Gods exchange meaningful looks.
FIRST GOD The nearest one, my son. Try the nearest place first.
WANG Only thing is... I have to be careful not to seem like I’m favoring anyone.
There's not many people who can help a guy like me, but there's plenty who can harm me.
FIRSTGOD We’ll make it an order then - nearest place first.
WANG That’d be Mr. Fo’s.
He hurries over to the door to Mr. Fo’s, knocks. The door opens, but then he's turned away. Comes back hesitantly.
Bad luck. Mr. Fo’s happens not to be home and his servants don’t dare do anything without his permission. Won’t he be furious when he finds out who they've turned away.
GODS (smiling) Undoubtedly.
WANG Just another moment. The widow Su lives next door. She'll be ecstatic.
He runs over, but is clearly turned away from there too.
I'm going to ask over there. She says she's only got a tiny room which isn't ready and hasn't been cleaned and... I can understand her embarrassment. So, next up, Mr Cheng.
SECOND GOD A small room is fine. Tell her we’ll take it.
WANG It’s a mess. Crawling with spiders.
SECOND GOD No matter. The more spiders, the fewer flies.
THIRD GOD My son, go try Mr Cheng. To be perfectly honest, I’m afraid of spiders.
WANG knocks on another door and is let in.
VOICE (within) Gods? Don't come to us with your Gods! We've other things to worry about.
WANG (returns) He's inconsolable, Mr Cheng, inconsolable. He has all his relatives staying and can't bring himself to tell you face to face. Between you and me, I think it's 'cause some of them aren't exactly respectable, if you know what I mean. He's afraid of your judgment.
THIRD GOD Are we so terrifying?
WANG Only to bad people. Like the folks in Kwan – they've had floods there for years now.
SECOND GOD And why is that do you think?
WANG Because they've got no respect for the Gods.
SECOND GOD Nonsense. It's because they never repair their dam.
FIRST GOD Pssst. (To WANG privately.) Do you still have hope?
WANG How can you ask that? I need only knock on the very next door. People are dying to put you up. Just bad luck so far. Watch this.
He goes, hesitantly, then stops and stands in the street, undecided which house to go to.
SECOND GOD What did I tell you?
THIRD GOD More bad luck...
SECOND GOD Bad luck in Shun, bad luck in Kwan and now bad luck in Szechuan.
The truth is, the people are no longer God-fearing. Face it, our mission here has failed.
FIRST GOD We might find good people at any moment. We can't give up this easily.
THIRD GOD The ruling stated: if enough good people are found who live a moral life, the world can stay as it is. We've found the water seller, haven't we?
SECOND GOD Wait. When he offered us water, I saw something. Look at his measuring cup.
He shows it to the FIRST GOD.
FIRST GOD It has a false bottom.
SECOND GOD A swindler.
FIRST GOD All right. Cross him off the list. But what’s one bad apple - we'll find plenty of other good people. We have to! For two thousand years people have claimed that the world can't go on as it is; that no one can remain virtuous in it. We must search harder for people who are able to live by our commands. (Puts the cup back on the ground. They turn back to Wang). Any luck?
WANG Any second now! (To audience) They’re beginning to (notice) catch on.
(Addresses a passerby.) Excuse me for bothering you, but three of the highest Gods, whose visit’s been the talk of Szechwan for years, have just arrived and (need a place to stay, are seeking lodging). Don't walk by (off)... Quick, before someone else snaps them up. This is your chance, the chance of a lifetime.
Passerby walks off.
FIRST GOD This doesn’t look encouraging.
WANG turns to a gentleman WANG Sir, you heard me. Do you perhaps have a spare room? Doesn't have to be palatial, it's the gesture that counts.
GENTLEMAN How do I know what kind of Gods they are? Who knows who I'd be letting into my home (he goes into a tobacconist’s. Wang returns to the Gods.) WANG. I’ve found a gentleman who’s sure to say “yes.” He sees his cup on the ground, looks uncertainly at THE GODS, picks it up and runs back to the tobacconist’s. The GENTLEMAN comes out of the shop smoking a cigar.
WANG So, how about it?
GENTLEMAN How do you know I’m not looking for a room myself?
SECOND GOD He's not going to find anything. Strike Szechwan off the list.
WANG These are Principal Gods! Three of them! There's statues of them in the temple if you don't believe me.
GENTLEMAN (laughs) How do I know they’re not a bunch of crooks?
WANG (calls after him) Where’s your respect, you swivel-eyed skinflint! You're going to burn in hell, y'knowl The Gods'll shit on you. Your grandkids' grandkids will still be paying for your mistake. You've brought shame on the whole of Szechwan. (Pause.) Now only Shen Te's left. Shen Te the prostitute. She can never say no to anyone. Shen Te!
SHEN TE’s head appears at an upstairs window.
WANG They're here, the Gods are here, but I can't find any room for them. Can you put them up for the night?
SHEN TE I can't, Wang. I’m expecting a client. You can't find anywhere for them at all?
WANG No. Szechwan's a pile of shit.
SHEN TE I could not answer when he arrives and he might go away. He's taking me out somewhere.
WANG Can we come up for now?
SHEN TE As long as you keep your voices down. Can I be straight with them?
WANG No! They mustn't find out what you do. We’d better wait downstairs. Promise you won’t go off with your client, all right?
SHEN TE I'm broke Wang, and I'm going to be evicted if I don't come up with rent by tomorrow.
WANG How can you think about money at a time like this?
SHEN TE I don’t know, the stomach rumbles even on the Emperor's birthday.
FIRST GOD It’s hopeless SHEN TE But all right, I'll take them in. Just keep them away from the door until the coast is clear.
She turns the light down. The Gods cross to WANG.
WANG (startled to find the Gods behind him) I've found you something!
He wipes his brow.
GODS Really? Then lead the way.
WANG No hurry. Relax. The room's being made up.
THIRD GOD We'll sit down and wait then.
WANG Bit busy here though, isn’t it? All the toing and froing. We're better over there, don't you think?
SECOND GOD We like to watch people. It’s what we came for.
WANG Kind of drafty too.
SECOND GOD We can put up with that (Oh, we’re hearty folk) WANG How about a night-time tour of Szechuan?
THIRD GOD Actually, we’ve done quite a lot of walking today already. (Smiling) But if you want us to move away from here, you just have to say so. Is this all right for you?
They move away sit on a stoop. WANG sits on the ground off to the side.
WANG (summoning his courage) You'll be staying with a young lady who... who lives on her own. She's a good person - the best person there is in Szechwan.
THIRD GOD We're glad to hear it.
WANG (to the audience) When I picked up my cup before, they all looked at me funny.
D'you think they know? I can't look any of them in the eye.
THIRD GOD You must be exhausted.
WANG A bit. All the rushing around.
FIRST GOD Is life hard for the people here?
WANG Yes. For the good ones.
FIRST GOD (penetratingly) And for you?
WANG I know what you're getting at. No, I'm not good; but life's not easy for me either.
The Client has arrived at SHEN TE's house. He whistles several times. Each time he does, WANG flinches.
THIRD GOD I think he's gone now.
WANG (at sixes and sevens) Yes, sir.
He gets up and walks to the square, leaving behind his carrying pole.
In the meantime, the man who was waiting for SHEN TE has left and SHEN TE has come out if her house, softly called “Wang”, and gone the street in search of him. So when WANG now calls for her, there's no answer.
WANG She's gone. Left me in the lurch. Gone after her rent money, and now there's nowhere for the Gods. They're tired and they're tired of waiting. What'm I going to say?
There's always my own place in the sewage pipe, but, no, I can't take them there. They won't want to stay with me after what happened with the drinking cup. I'm not going back to them, I can't. But my carrying pole's over there... What'll I do? I'm leaving it - I'm getting out of Szechuan. I'm going to hide, somewhere where they won't find me. I've failed them, the Gods I worship and revere, I've failed them.
He runs off. As soon as he's gone, SHEN TE returns. She sees the Gods.
SHEN TE Are you the Gods? I'm Shen Te. I'd be honored if you'd accept my invitation to stay in my room for the night.
THIRD GOD Where has the water seller gone?
SHEN TE I must've just missed him.
FIRST GOD He probably thought you'd left him and couldn't face us.
THIRD GOD (picks up WANG's stuff) We'll store this in your house. He'll need it later.
SHEN TE leads them into the house. It gets dark, then light again.
Dawn. The Gods step outside to leave, led by SHEN TE, who lights th.eir wqy with a lamp.
FIRST GOD My dear Shen Te, thank you for your hospitality. We won't forget it was you who took us in. Give the water seller his carrying pole back and tell him we're grateful to him for showing us a good person.
SHEN TE I'm not good. I have a confession to make. When Wang asked me, I hesitated.
FIRST GOD That doesn't matter - you made the right decision in the end. And truth be told, you gave us more than shelter for the night. There are many - even some of us Gods who doubt there are any good people left. That was the purpose our journey – to find out.
Now that we’ve found one, we can go happily on our ay. Goodbye.
SHEN TE Wait, Divinities... How am I good, tell me? I want to be but every month there's the rent to pay. I sell my body in order to live. And even then I don't make enough, since there are so many others doing it too. I want to follow your commands of brotherly love and honesty, I do, and not covet my neighbour's house and to love one man faithfully and loyally and not exploit anyone or benefit from their misery or rob the poor and the helpless. But how'm I supposed to do all that? Even when I try my best I end up breaking half of them.
FIRST GOD These are nothing but the worries of every good person.
THIRD GOD Farewell, Shen Te. Give my regards to the water seller. He was a good friend to us.
SECOND GOD For all the good it's done him.
THIRD GOD Take care of yoursel£ FIRST GOD Above all, be good, Shen Te. Goodbye.
They turn to go, already waving goodbye.
SHEN TE (fearful) But how can I when everything's so expensive?
SECOND GOD We can't help you there, I'm afraid. We don't get involved in economic matters.
THIRD GOD Wait a moment. If she had a bit more money, surely she'd have a better chance of staying good.
FIRST GOD We can't give her anything. We'd have to answer for it up there.
THIRD GOD So?
They discuss it animatedly.
FIRST GOD (to SHEN TE, embarrassed) We know you're struggling with your rent.
We're not poor and so it goes without saying that we will pay for our night’s lodgings.
Gives her some money.
But you can't tell anyone. It might be misinterpreted.
SECOND GOD Wildly misinterpreted.
THIRD GOD No, we're allowed. We're simply paying for our night's lodgings. Nothing in the ruling forbids it. Goodbye then.
They leave hurriedly.