I can see the appeal of staging CP Taylor’s GOOD (@ New Rep through Oct. 30th) right now. Alas, the comparison of our election campaigning to the rhetoric of Nazi Germany’s rise isn’t that far fetched. Mr. Trump’s supporters say he doesn’t really mean the racist ideas he spouts: It’s just to attract the conservative base. In GOOD, a Jewish character reassures himself that “they’ll drop the Jewish persecution once they have the vote.” Of course we don’t know what Trump really believes but we do know what the Nazis wrought on six million Jews after they got the vote.
GOOD’s protagonist, a university professor (Michael Kaye), tells the audience that music always seems to accompany “the dramatic moments” in his life. In truth, the moments are far more dramatic to the people he’s watching or disappointing or condemning to death by his inaction. He rationalizes book-burning because “learning by living” could be a better method of teaching. He rationalizes euthanasia as an end to the suffering of those who have no “quality of life.” He turns a deaf ear to an old friend (Tim Spears) who needs help getting out of Germany, dismissing him because he has too many “worries” of his own to see to.
His lyrical “addictions” (bits of pop songs, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner and more, which play in his brain) keep interrupting the flow of the play. Sometimes they’re staged as vaudeville with histrionics from a mock Hitler. But this breaking the fourth wall and distracting us with irresistible music serves mainly as a distancing effect (beloved of Berthold Brecht to keep an audience on its intellectual toes).
The talented cast of ten deliver Sigmund Romberg’s drinking song in gorgeous, four part harmony. Certainly we can appreciate the professor’s musical obsessions. Director Jim Petosa’s staging for New Rep is inventive and the diversions amusing but the interruptions keep the emotional impact of impending horror at arm’s length. For example, the actors cleverly create a fiery conflagration with their fingers flickering like flames licking at the burning books but we concentrate on the masterly stagecraft, like the cast morphing into the circling, mechanical figures on the famous Munich clock tower.
I’m afraid I think any hope of landing a searing, emotional reaction to the play is lost in a large space like New Rep’s main stage. (Perhaps it might work better in a more intimate setting.) What does work is the intellectual punch, reminding us that “good” citizens can be corrupted and convinced to go along with obscene semantics like the professor espouses at the end of the play: “The objective moral truth eliminates the subjective… It’s not good or bad…[It’s] just the way it is,” as if morality can be debated. Chilling words, indeed.