Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene 1 - Clown, Paradise
This scene is a kaleidoscope of disastrous beauty; possessing taste both grotesque and picturesque; a place called Setchuwarn which is stuck between heaven and hell. Here, the clown' character is introduced. This is where Brecht's famous 'verfremdungseffekt' or 'alienation effect' is used. The clown is the tool used to remind the audience that it is seeing a play, distancing their emotions from those which occur onstage. This helps to underline the message that the play is trying to portray: the search for goodness in mankind. We are also introduced to Paradise – the embodiment of that which was Promised. She is found to be mesmerizing, and her song is sad and full of melancholy.
Scene 2 – Wong the Waterseller, random Player
Wong the waterseller searches for the illustrious ones – gods (three) – who he has heard have come to Setchuwarn in search for a ‘good person' to ensure the continuance of the world. We are not told why he is the one chosen to look for these gods, nor are we to know how he was told of their arrival. Even so, we (the audience) are quickly involved in his search along with him. He runs frantically on a diorama in his search, confusing both the players onstage, and the audience.
Scene 3 – Wong, First God, Second God, Third God
The gods enter in all the godly splendour one would expect. They request a place to stay for the night. Being their humble servant, Wong bolts off to find accommodation for the visiting illustrious ones.
Scene 4 – Wong, Mister Fo, Mr Cheng, Mr Chang, First God, Second God, Third God, Mr Choong, City of Setchuwarn
Wong searches for accommodation for the three gods. He tries four different times, and four different times he is unsuccessful. No one in the entire city of Setchuwarn has the means, tolerance nor time to keep three people to stay the night with them.
Scene 5 – First God, Second God, Third God, Wong
Despite the refusal from the whole city, Wong remains steadfast, going so far as to lie to the gods and tell them that too many people want to accommodate them. The gods however, are not taken in by Wong's improvising, and realise that their attempts to find goodness in mankind is folly – after all, they cannot even find a place to stay for the night. The gods hope that the little wanton servant (Wong) may be claimed as good, however, through further inspection, find that he is no better than the rest – swindling his customers of their money through a false bottom water cup.
Scene 6 – Wong, a town mob, First God, Second God, Third God, Shen Te
After being pelted with rotten garbage, and refused accommodation by everyone in the town, Wong stumbles underneath the window of Shen Te – a prostitute. With little hope left, Wong asks Shen Te for her help. Even though she has a business appointment (or gentlemen caller) to attend to, she decides to do good for her fellowman and take in the ‘gods' as Wong suggests. Wong tries to hide from the gods what Shen Te really is (a prostitute); after all – how can someone be good when they sell their body to pay the rent?
Scene 7 – Shen Te, Wong, First God, Second God, Third God, Caller
However, there is a mix up, and Wong thinks Shen Te backed down on the deal. In an act of cowardice, Wong flees the scene and the gods, never to be worried with such things again, or at least for the time being. However, Shen Te does not back out, but instead hid from her gentleman caller, giving the impression that she was not in. When she came outside to look for Wong, she finds no one but the illustrious ones – and decides to accommodate them as needed.
Scene 8 – First God, Second God, Third God, Shen Te, players
The gods are pleased with Shen Te's exceptional hospitality. Being the good natured soul that she is, Shen Te tries to confess that she is not at all good, that she sells her body in a vile way just to pay the rent. But her confession falls on deaf ears. This is because the gods are desperate to find someone; anyone who is good, so that all of mankind is not abolished. In order to prevent Shen Te from prostituting herself further, they give her enough money to pay the rent, and other things, as a reward for her honesty and goodness.
Scene 9 – Shen Te, Mrs Shin, Wife, Husband, Nephew, Vagrant, Carpenter, Brother, Sister-In-Law, Mrs Mitzu, Boy, Grandfather, Uncle
With the money that the gods gave her, Shen Te buys a tobacco shop in order to ‘turn over a new leaf' and do some good in the community she is now in. Mrs Shin is the woman that rented her the shop. She holds contempt and malice for Shen Te for forcing her and her children out of their home. Despite this, Shen Te feeds her, and cares for her and her children when they are in ‘need', sharing rice with them. We also meet the Wife and Husband, two people who took Shen Te into their care when she first came into the country. Despite this, they too hold contempt for Shen Te, and decide that her buying a shop is the best benefit for them. When a Vagrant comes to the door begging, Shen Te offers help and kindness, whereas the Husband and Wife
offer taunts and rejection. When she gives the beggar a cigarette free of charge, she is told that if she's opening the shop today, tomorrow it would be closed. This underlines to us that good deeds can often have negative repercussions for the deed-doer. In this scene it is also discovered that Mrs Shin has shady dealings with the Carpenter who built her shelves. Mrs Shin disregarded the bill, and when he comes demanding the money, she flees, leaving Shen Te to deal with the problem. Shen Te informs the Carpenter that she bought the shop with all furnishings included, but this falls on deaf ears. We also meet Mrs Mitzu, the landlady. Mrs Mitzu requires references from Shen Te, to allow her to keep living on her land. Seeing as this is quite an important duty, Shen Te claims her ‘cousin' – Shui Ta – who lives in the next town over, would gladly supply Mrs Mitzu the papers she requires. Shen Te, with the help of the entourage of people
in her shop, claim that her ‘cousin' Mr Shui Ta will help pay for the shelves.
Scene 10 – Wong, First God, Second God, Third God, Sister-in-Law, Uncle
The scene starts to find Wong in the middle of a blissful dream. When he awakens to a start, he finds the illustrious ones, the gods, standing over him in his humble sewer pipe. Wong is eager to apologise for not finding someone of good worth. The gods disagree, and inform him that Shen Te is good – taking them in and giving them pleasant hospitality. They ask that Wong take an interest in Shen Te and her goodness, for goodness and good deeds require interest and demand. The three illustrious ones go off, in search for more good in the world.
Scene 10 – Wife, Husband, Shui Ta, Nephew, Policeman, Boy, Grandfather, Uncle, Mrs Mi Tzu, Old Woman
The squatters who have taken over Shen Te's shop are startled to find Shen Te's ‘cousin' Mr Shui Ta standing at the door with the carpenter. This is a double surprise because Mr Shui Ta is meant to be fictional, a made up character developed to save themselves from authoritarian figures. Mr Shui Ta bursts in, informs them roughly that this shop of Shen Te's is his, and for
them all to vacate the premises immediately. Regardless of his blunt and out-of-nowhere request, Shui Ta fails to rid the shop of the ‘hogs'. This argument is interrupted by the Carpenter who demands Shui Ta pay him the 100 silver coins he requires for building such fine shelves for the shop. Shui Ta shows his ability as a businessman and starts to negotiate/haggle the cost and offers 20. With only a minor argument, the Carpenter walks away less money than he had first asked for, claiming it is only enough on which to get drunk.
With the Carpenter out of the picture, Shui Ta still attempts to make the squatters leave. When he invites a policeman over, they soon vacate, and Shui Ta is victorious. Mrs Mitzu comes back to ask Shui Ta for Shen Te's references, and demands six months rent for security over Shen Te. Obviously too much to pay, the Policeman offers his suggestion – to marry Shen Te off to a wealthy man, so she can spend his money. With a rush he sets off to put an ad in the newspaper. We also meet the Old Woman, who plays a crucial part in the play. She is kind and good,
almost too good for the world in which she lives.
Scene 11 – Yang Sun, Shen Te, Waterseller
This scene introduces Yang Sun; a surly, rude has-been flyer who is trying to hang himself in the park in the rain. Shen Te runs into Yang Sun while crossing the park to meet her fiancé. Being the good soul that she is, Shen Te tries to stop Yang Sun from doing the inevitable, and strikes up a conversation about life, friendship and love. Wong comes along and Shen Te buys a cup of water, despite the deluge falling around her. She returns to Yang Sun and finds he has fallen asleep. This is now love for Shen Te, and Yang Sun is almost disgusted at the idea.
Scene 12 – Wong, First God, Second God, Third God
Wong informs the illustrious ones that Shen Te has not changed at all, remaining to do good deeds and help others who may or may not necessarily in need. He dons Shen Te with the name Angel Of The Slums. Wong tries with enthusiasm to explain just how good Shen Te is to everyone, but sadly manages to make her sound foolish.
Scene 13 – Grandfather, Sister-in-Law, Mrs Shin, Unemployed Man, Mr Shu Fu, Shen
Te, Boys, Farmers, Washerwoman, Old Woman, Old Man, Wong, Mrs Yang Mr Shu Fu, the fat barber who is quite wealthy, hurts the hand of Wong when he finds Wong is pestering his customers. When Wong runs into the family of squatters, they convince him to sue the barber for every cent he is worth. Shen Te also breaks into song, proclaiming her love for Yang Sun. The Old Woman gives a scarf as a present to Shen Te, with a discount because there is a hole in it. Out of another act of kindness, the Old Woman and Old Man offer to pay Shen Te's six months rent, in exchange for tobacco stock.
Mrs Yang, Yang Suns mother, is introduced and demands that Shen Te give 500 silver dollars to Yang Sun so that he can get to the job in Peking. Shen Te can only offer 200 silver dollars – the money just given to her by the elderly couple.
Scene 14 – Mrs Shin, Yang Sun, Shui Ta, Mrs Mitzu, Mr Shu Fu, Policeman, Wong
Mrs Shin talks to the audience much like a narrator. She informs the audience that the relationship between Shen Te and Yang Sun is unhealthy, and stinks more than bloated fish. She thinks Shen Te is foolish for loving such a mess of a man. Her speech is interrupted by Yang Sun, who is searching for Shen Te, but instead finds her alter ego and ‘cousin', Shui Ta. Yang Sun still selfishly wants the extra 300 silver dollars. Shui Ta informs him that Shen Te would have to sell the shop to come up with that sort of money and Yang Sun naturally assumes she will do so. Shui Ta discovers that Yang Sun needs the money as a ‘pay-off' in order to get the job. Mrs Mitzu enters, asking for the six months rent money. She fails to receive it, seeing as it had been given, out of love, to Yang Sun. Enter Mr Shu Fu: the barber, smitten with the kind Shen Te, Angle of the Slums. He offers to marry Shen Te and alleviate her financial load. Using his cunning and powers of manipulation, Yang Sun convinces Shen Te that he is not a worthless fool, and that his love for her is genuine. This of course, is not true, but Shen Te falls for it, and hands over the key to the shop.
Scene 15 – Shen Te, The Grandfather, Yang Sun, Sister-in-Law, Mrs Yang, Niece, Mrs Shin, Unemployed Man, A priest, Waiter
Shen Te's wedding day. Yang Sun is furious that Shen Te will not supply him with the money he needs for the job he wants so badly. Yang Sun and his mother decide to wait for Shui Ta, so that the money matters can be solved with someone who has more business qualities. At the same time, Yang Sun manages to fool Shen Te into thinking he loves her still, although it is clear to the audience where his intentions lie. Slowly he lets out his true feelings, and with a sudden burst of animosity, he reveals his real intention of why he wants the money so badly – to leave Setchuwarn. The wedding ends with Yang Sun throwing Shen Te to the ground, claiming she has no idea what love is.
Scene 16 – Wong, First God, Second God, Third God
Wong communicates with the illustrious ones again; he tries to tell them that Shen Te is too good for this world. His pleas fall on deaf ears, once more. The gods claim that suffering enriches the soul, and disappear, leaving Wong to sort out his feelings by himself.
Scene 17 – Mrs Shin, Shen Te, Mr Shu Fu, Player 1, Player 2, Player 3, Player 4, Wong, Wife, Husband, Sister-in-Law, Grandfather, Unemployed Man, Mrs Mitzu
While Shen Te and Mrs Shin are hanging out the washing, Mr Shu Fu bursts in to offer a blank cheque to Shen Te to help her financially. It is obvious that he is smitten with her. When he goes, it is discovered that Shen Te is pregnant with Yang Sun's baby. She is then whisked away into a fantasy of her own as she imagines life with a child. This dream is interrupted by Wong, who sullenly informs Shen Te that the Carpenter has lost his shop and is now lying in the street drunk, with his children standing over him. Shen Te is then again pestered by the squatters, who now wish to store some things at the shop. Things begin to get out of control and Shen Te calls upon the skill of Shui Ta to sort out the dilemma. With great confidence, he tells the squatters to go, signs Mrs Mitzu's lease and fills out the cheque that Mr Shu Fu gave to Shen Te.
Scene 18 – Wong, First God, Second God, Third God
The three illustrious ones are irritable in this scene. When Wong, once again, tries to inform them of Shen Te's condition, they are reluctant to hear.
Scene 19 – Mrs Yang Sun, Player, Shui Ta, Yang Sun, Unemployed Man
Mrs Yang pleads with Shui Ta to save her foolish son from jail. In return, Shui Ta offers Yang Sun a job in the factory he now owns. At first Yang Sun hated the job, but with hard work and honesty, he is promoted, and now enjoys a steady income.
Scene 20 – Shui Ta, Old Woma, Old Man, Mrs Shin, Yang Sun, Wong, Mrs Mitzu, Policeman
The Old Woman and Old Man are found pestering Shui Ta as to when Shen Te will return. They know she is close by because the money she owed them has returned. However, it came too late for taxes and sadly, elderly couple lost their shop. Meanwhile, Wong lets slip that Shen Te is pregnant, much to the surprise of Yang Sun. Mrs Mitzu enters, willing to sell her building to Shui Ta for half the rent money plus Yang Sun. Shui Ta refuses, as he needs a good business man like Yang Sun. It is then claimed that due to Shen Te's absence, the only explanation is that Shui Ta
has killed her, and they rush Shui Ta off to court.
Scene 21 – Wong, First God, Second God, Third God
Wong informs the illustrious ones of Shen Te's apparent death. The gods then decide it is time to intervene, and set about disguising themselves as the judges for the trial.
Scene 22 – Unemployed Man, Grandfather, Mrs Yang, Wong, The Carpenter, The Niece, The Old Man, Old Woman, Mrs Shin, Policeman, Sister-in-Law, Shu Fu, Mrs Mitzu, Shui Ta, Shen Te, First God, Second God, Third God, Yang Sun
The grand courtroom: the trial of Shui Ta for killing Shen Te. The three illustrious ones enter, poorly disguised as the judges and trying hard to conceal their ‘overwhelming godliness'. Shui Ta is accused of having stolen Shen Te's business and ‘disposing' of hen Te. When the crowd scream ‘Murderer' at him, Shui Ta requests that the court be cleared so that he can make a confession.
Here it is discovered that Shui Ta is in fact Shen Te. Shen Te confesses that she took on the persona of Shui Ta – her ‘cousin' – because being genuinely good was making it next to impossible for her to survive. She is in deep need of help, but regardless, the gods leave her to think for herself – their only advice being, ‘be good'. The scene ends with Shen Te – or rather the actress playing Shen Te giving a speech to the audience about the search for goodness and posing the question ‘How, in today's society to we be good?'. She speaks of the difficulty of being good, when our peers and elders, the people we look up to, are hardly good themselves – this leaves us with the question – 'Is the strive for goodness in a person folly?' This is up for you to decide.
Scene 23 – Shen Te, Yang Sun, Yang She
The scene starts with a young child playing on the stage with a ball. The ball runs away from her and she rushes to pick it up. Yang Sun appears with the ball and the child is frightened of him. Shen Te enters, explaining that it is the smell of the tobacco that she is frightened of. Shen Te and Yang Sun talk, with Yang Sun professing his undying love and promising to the conditions of a ‘trial period' set by Shen Te.