Bertolt Brecht’s parable The Good Person of Szechwan is one of the playwright’s major plays, popular and regularly produced because of its universal themes. Many critics believe the play is one of the best examples of Brecht’s epic theater because it challenges the audience. Although Brecht worked on the idea behind the play as early as the late 1920s, it was primarily written from 1939-43 in various European countries and the United States while in exile from his native Germany during World War II. Brecht tried to get Good Person produced in the United States in 1941, but the play did not make its debut until February 4, 1943, at the Schauspielhaus Zurich, in Zurich, Switzerland. The play was produced throughout Europe in the 1940s. The first English-language production of The Good Person of Szechwan in the United States took place in either Cleveland’s Eldred Theater or Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1948. Many American colleges and universities put on the play after this date. The Good Person of Szechwan was first produced professionally in New York City in late 1956, shortly after Brecht’s death.
The play has continued to be performed throughout the world to the present day, in part because it seems to be a modern parable about a basic human issue: how to be a good person in an imperfect, money-centered, class-divided society. Because of this focus, the play does not seem to be intended to be a reflection of the actual social, cultural and political life in China at that time, although the play uses some conventions of Chinese theater and is set in China. Brecht’s original setting for the play was Berlin, and some recent productions have adapted the story to reflect the time and location of production. As John Fuegi wrote in The Essential Brecht, ‘‘The profound metaphysical question of why evil is permitted, indeed encouraged, in the world has seldom been asked with such force.’’