By C. P. Taylor
Directed by Jim Petosa
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“In short, it is much easier to see a thing through from the point of view of abstract principle than from that of concrete responsibility.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers from Prison”
When under stress, Professor John Halder (Michael Kaye) hears songs of comfort that no one else can hear. Numbed by fantasy fueled by denial – like many “good” people during the rise of Nazism in post-World War I Germany – Halder refuses to understand the menace of Hitler’s racialist programs and colludes with Hitler’s regime believing because “Hitler’s racialist program is not practical they’ll have to drop it.” “They” do not drop it and exterminate over six million Jews and other members of humankind the Nazis deem undesirable.
C. P. Taylor’s important and dauntingly relevant “Good,” currently running at PTP/NYC 2016 at Atlantic Stage 2, chronicles how this good person Professor Halder becomes an ally of all that is not good about Nazi Germany. It is a compelling and engaging look into the dynamics of delusional behavior and how easy it is to do the wrong thing in times of crisis. Throughout the play, Halder slowly begins to face reality until, when he finally visits Auschwitz, the music he hears – no longer in his head – is played by those ready to be exterminated.
No matter how much Halder’s Jewish friend Maurice (Tim Spears) tries to dissuade Halder from supporting “abstract principles” and to instead embrace “concrete responsibility,” Halder spirals further into delusion and condones Eichmann’s (Adam Ludwig) “common interest” point of view. The more the regime asks him to participate in their “mercy killing” experiments, the easier it becomes for him to comply – matching the music in his head, his delusional understanding of the evils of Hitler and the SS.
The Nazis become interested in Halder after discovering his novel that deals with euthanasia, a concept that fascinates Halder as he watches his mother (Judith Chaffee) decline into the depths of dementia and becomes more as more difficult to care for. At one point Halder’s mother asks, “Do you think I’m going out of my mind? If I’m going out of my mind. . .that’s a bad business.” Additionally, Halder’s center is not holding well as he drifts from his wife Helen (Valerie Leonard) and takes up with Anne one of his students at the University (Caitlin Rose Duffy).
Under Jim Petosa’s deft direction, the ensemble cast grapples successfully with Mr. Taylor’s script to reveal important themes that raise rich and enduring questions that are as relevant currently as they were in the past. When does self-interest conflict with interest in the common good? Which is more important to the individual? What are neuroses and how do these affect one’s performance in the service of the public? What is reality for politicians? What happens when “their” reality is pathological? What exactly is the difference between good and evil? What is good? What is evil? Mr. Petosa’s staging effectively collides reality with illusion with scenes that collide into one another with gripping ferocity.
Mark Evancho’s set and Hallie Zieselman’s lighting mirror the caverns of Halder’s mind and Jessica Vankempen’s costumes are period perfect and hauntingly realistic. PTP/NYC’s Co-Artistic Director Cheryl Faraone introduces “Good” with the hope “the work will become part of [our] conversation” about the current political and socio-economic environment where – as in the early 1930s – the center is not holding and where again “it [has become] much easier to see a thing through from the point of view of abstract principle than from that of concrete responsibility.” Audiences have only through August 7 to see “Good” at Atlantic Stage 2. It would be fascinating to see “Good” played in repertory with Aaron Loeb’s “Ideation.”