The always-challenging, provocative PTP/NYC (Potomac Theatre Project) is celebrating their 30th anniversary season by bringing back two plays in repertory: “No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming,” by British playwright Howard Barker, and “Good” by Glasgow-born playwright C.P. Taylor. “Good,” written in 1981, contains lines that would not sound out of place in the mouth of the current Republican presidential candidate. This is unsurprising, considering the play is set in the 1930’s of Hitler’s Germany. For the record, Hitler (Noah Berman, stellar) is portrayed as a vain, demented clown.
“Good” ostensibly tackles how it is possible for an ordinary, “good” German, John Halder (Michael Kaye) to alter his belief system in order to justify unspeakable acts. John, a successful professor and novelist at university, has a neurotic wife, Helen (Valerie Leonard), children, a Jewish best friend, Maurice (Tim Spears), and an ailing mother (Judith Chafee) confined to a nursing home. What separates him is “bringing music into the dramatic moments of my life.” This method of escapism blinds him to others’ needs, and eventually blots out his own conscience. John is recognized by the SS as a potential recruit via his novel: part of it suggests that euthanizing the ill and infirm is a mercy and in the best interests of both patient and family, this despite the fact that John is not a medical doctor and that the SS fail to differentiate fiction from non-fiction. Nevertheless, once John agrees to “write a document,” it is a slippery slope to betrayal of everything and everyone he knows, and cares about.
This is a rather linear description of a non-linear play, and the way Taylor has constructed it is genius. “Good” is told in overlapping scenes with minimal set pieces suggesting multiple locales (credit Mark Evancho for Scenic Design); it moves forward in time, then back, stops mid-scene and jumps to another scene, moves forward again, recedes. This gives it an energy and an inexorable pull: you, as an audience member, know what’s coming, and in your head you still shout NO NO NO. But John can’t hear you. He can only hear the music in his head; music which was used to great effect and added much-needed levity (sound design is by Seth Clayton).
All credit is due to Director Jim Petosa for a seamless, thrilling production, and in particular for the restraint taken with Hitler’s henchman (Adam Ludwig as Bouller and Eichmann, Christo Grabowski as Freddie) portrayed as flesh and blood men, rather than simply evil.
The most difficult part, of course, is Michael Kaye’s John. For me, he perfectly embodies Hannah Arendt’s “the banality of evil” – organizing the gassing of the Jews not out of malice, but out of “careerism and obedience.”
“Good” does not answer how this happens, but maybe it does not have to. Maybe knowing why is enough. What concerns me is what always does when I see excellent, thought-provoking theater: that the people who are seeing “Good” aren’t the ones who need to be seeing this play, and that the people who don’t see this play wind up electing another vain, demented clown as their leader.