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By D. A. Blackburn
There’s something extraordinarily disconcerting–and genuinely thought-provoking–about watching a man make bad decision after bad decision for two intense hours. This, of course, is precisely the motivation behind C. P. Taylor’s heady modern morality play “Good” – a work designed to leave theatergoers shifting uneasily in their seats. The Hilberry Theatre’s new production of the play, directed by David J. Magidson, does not disappoint.
“Good” is set within the mind of German literature professor John Halder, a man faced with impossible contradictions in his life. The Nazis have come to power on a platform diametrically opposed to his personal philosophy. His unstable wife and ailing mother stand between him and his true love. His closest friend, who happens to be Jewish, has asked for his help to flee the country – an act that could destroy his fledgling career within Hitler’s regime or even send him to jail. And, of late, he’s tormented by music.
If this sounds a bit chaotic, it is. Taylor’s startlingly profane script uses a disjointed, non-linear narrative to navigate the inner-Halder. And if the Hilberry’s production has one underlying failing, it starts here.
Magidson admits that the real struggle of “Good” is achieving clarity in storytelling, and his brisk pacing, at times, undermines this goal, creating an additional element of discord on stage. But Magidson does have a firm grasp on the message of “Good,” and it nevertheless shines through the fog.
Erman Jones’ anguished, tormented Halder is superb. There is a distinct challenge in making a character so embroiled in despicable actions a sympathetic and likable man, and Jones has achieved this delicate balance.
Dave Toomey, likewise, leaves a profound impression as Maurice, Halder’s Jewish friend and confidant. As Halder’s senile, dying mother, Samantha L. Rosentrater gives a vivid, heart wrenching performance.
In the design disciplines, “Good” is roundly successful. Noteworthy elements include Cara Tougas’ sets, which are attractive and exceedingly functional and John D. Woodland’s detailed period costuming.
When all is said and done, “Good” proves to be an extremely heavy show, as much a challenge for audiences as for performers. And while it is not a masterwork of narrative storytelling, it is a tremendously effective exploration of the nature of morality, good and evil, and the myriad shades of gray in between. The Hilberry has, once again, given theatergoers a rewarding, if difficult, play to ponder.
Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit. Plays in rotating repertory through May 7. $25-$30. 313-577-2972. http://www.wsushows.com