Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Mike Hoban
Appropriately enough, there have been a number of locally produced works this theater season that mirror this bizarre election year. Flat Earth Theatre (“Blinders”) and Gloucester Stage (“The Totalitarians”) both staged comic productions that dealt with the potential democratic election of a fascist-leaning character in the U.S., but they were a lot easier to dismiss as the absurd comedies that they are than “Good”, a drama that focuses on how an allegedly “good man” was seduced by the lure of career success to aid the Nazis with their most heinous atrocities. And while it may be a stretch to compare Hitler to the current candidate, the hate and misinformation being lapped up by his supporters, combined with the media’s failure to acknowledge that yes, it really could happen here, makes for some uncomfortable viewing.
John Halder (Michael Kaye) is a literary professor in 1930’s Germany, whose fictional novel featuring a “humane” view of euthanasia has sparked the interest of the some of the officials in the Nazi Party, including Hitler himself. In the early going, there is nothing we learn about Halder that would lead us to believe that he would be susceptible to the allure of such an evil philosophy. He’s a devoted husband to his emotionally crippled wife, father to his children, and mindful son to an elderly (and failing) mother, and he has a passion for the humanities as well. He has one small problem, however, which he describes to the audience as “bringing music into the dramatic moments of my life”. In other words, in stressful situations, bands begin to play in his head in OCD fashion – which he uses as a way to escape.
It starts with an affair with a young student, which leads him to eventually abandon his wife, children and blind and demented mother. Along his journey we see him find justifications for book burnings, Kristallnacht, and eventually the death camps – all while maintaining a friendship with Maurice, who watches in horror as his friend calmly turns into a monster. And while it may be the point of the play – that we accept little horrors incrementally like a frog boiling to death as the temperature of a pot of water slowly rises – Halder’s transformation sometimes seems to come with little resistance. Which may also be the point. Is Halder really “good”? His behavior becomes so callous and self-centered so early in the play that it could be that this was his true disposition all along. Either way, some dramatic tension is lost as a result of there being no obvious moral conflict for Halder.
Which is not to say this is not a very good production. It begins almost as a comedy, and early in the first act, there are a lot of laughs generated through the humor of just observing human behavior. Tim Spears is stellar as Maurice, maintaining a comic flair through even the bleakest of scenes. Kaye is equally brilliant as the disaffected Halder, and by the time we see him putting on his SS uniform to report for work at Auschwitz, he may as well be going to his job as the CEO of a nonprofit. Jim Petosa does a great job directing this challenging work, which surreally combines comedy, drama and a cabaret experience at times. The cast is uniformly solid, with strong performances from top to bottom. Set designer Ji Young Han also deserves kudos for a very effective and multifunctional set.
This is well worth seeing, but those of us who are still a little squeamish about the upcoming election may have difficulty detaching from the implications of the obvious parallels. For more information, go to: http://www.newrep.org/