C.P. Taylor’s definitive holocaust play, “Good,” has long been viewed as beautifully written and thought provoking. However, the piece’s dreary subject matter and its reliance on the strongest of performances and direction keep it from being one of those plays that pops up on theatre calendars regularly. Leave it to Burning Coal and director Ian Finley to rise to and meet the challenge head-on.
The success or failure of “Good” hinges largely on who is cast in the main role of Halder, a literature professor who gradually becomes a supporter of and active participant in the Nazi party. Steven Roten’s Halder is not a victim of circumstance, as the role is often played, nor is he completely evil. His Halder is simply an imperfect human who makes poor choices and is thus a character whom the audience identifies with. This identification is the key to getting viewers to ask themselves the tough questions that are at the heart of this piece—what defines good and evil? Where do we draw the line between the two? Would we make the same choices as Halder if placed in his shoes?
Roten is backed by equally strong cast members, many of whom do double duty, moving seamlessly in and out of multiple roles. Julie Oliver’s darkly comic portrayal of Hadler’s aged, demanding mother is particularly notable. Also brilliant here is director Finley’s choice to leave many of the actors onstage long after their lines are complete. They sit hauntingly in the background, watching Hadler’s every move with accusing gazes. Subtle lighting highlights or diminishes their visibility at key moments, and this, combined with the smooth, non-linear action gives the viewer the sensation of being inside of Hadler’s head, which is a scary place to be indeed.
Good runs through Sunday, February 17. For tickets and information, visit BurningCoal.org.