Playwright C.P. Taylor's work, Good, is a piece of theater guaranteed to make the audience think. That's a good thing. Too often, things are so cut and dry that the viewer isn't really required to ponder what they've just seen, they simply digest it and move along. But, Good stays with you, and makes you wonder just what it would take to make a person conform their values and beliefs in an effort to get ahead, even if meant the attempted extermination of a whole race of people. The St. Louis Actors' Studio has put together a fascinating and engaging presentation that truly makes you ask this question. And, with current legislation in Germany being discussed that would outlaw circumcision, it's a timely work that makes you aware of the fact that those who don't learn from their own history may be doomed to repeat it.
Our focus is on John Halder, a professor of literature who has written a book condoning euthanasia. Never mind that it's a purely personal work based on his own frustrating and maddening experiences with his own mother who is suffering from senile dementia. A copy even contains a written endorsement from Adolf Hitler himself. But, Halder, a neurotic who hears music in his head during key moments and encounters in his life, is ripe for the picking, and the Nazi party sees him as a figure sympathetic to their cause. Halder is unhappy in marriage and, though he has a Jewish friend named Maurice, questions his own sense of reality. The truth may not fully reveal itself to him until he's in full SS regalia, ascending the steps to the gates of Auschwitz as a band plays Schubert.
B. Weller is excellent as Halder, an everyman whose star rises during the 1930's in Germany just as he appears to be entering a crisis of identity and beliefs. He can justify his affair with a schoolgirl named Anne (nicely played by Rachel Fenton), by dwelling on his wife Helen's (April Strelinger) own ineptitude and disinterest. But, where his friend Maurice (Larry Dell) is concerned, he cannot defend his decisions to follow the party line, especially when it may mean Maurice's own persecution and death. David Wassilak is very good as Freddie, an SS officer who has his own qualms with the party's rules, and who, along with his wife Elizabeth (Missy Miller), takes in the naïve Halder.
A fine supporting cast includes: Teresa Doggett (Halder's ailing mother), Troy Turnipseed, Ben Ritchie, Paul Cooper, and Tim Hearn (who accompanies the show on keyboards).
Milton Zoth's direction keeps the disjointed action flowing as Weller quickly moves from each character encounter to another. Gradually we see his outlook change, and all to the accompaniment of various actors breaking into song. All of them are on stage at the same time, sometimes looming ominously in various groups. Patrick Huber's set and light design (along with scenic designer Cristie Johnson) keeps it all in focus, and adds a bit of theatricality to the proceedings as well. At least, until the gates of Auschwitz are revealed and swung into place. Felia Davenport's costumes fit the era well.
Good is a harrowing revelation and first rate theater. The St. Louis Actors' Studio has assembled a terrific cast that brings this unique piece to life. It continues through October 21, 2012 at the Gaslight Theatre.