“Good” Is The Best At St. Louis Actors’ Studio

I remember seeing this powerful drama, “Good,” many years ago at the old City Players and when I saw that St. Louis Actors’ Studio was doing it to open their new season, I couldn’t wait to see it. And the wait was well worth it as a cast of seasoned actors bring this mesmerizing play to brilliant life.

The cast of C.P. Taylor’s “Good” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo credit: John Lamb.

C.P. Taylor’s “Good” is akin to Van Druten’s “I Am A Camera” or, in the more popular musical form, “Cabaret.” As in those variations, the Nazi horror creeps up on an unsuspecting populace in the 1930’s and, before the “good” people of Germany know it, they are overwhelmed by a harsh dictator who is determined to wipe out an entire race and create a super-human species. “Good” centers on John Halder, an academic and author who must rationalize each vile act that occurs by hoping this Hitler thing will only last a few weeks before people realize what evil he plans to perpetrate. Even when it becomes apparent that atrocities like the Holocaust are occurring, Halder must justify it by surmising that maybe the Jewish race is to blame because they didn’t heed the early warning signs and flee the country.

How is he so seduced by the Nazi regime? Flattery and disbelief. All of the officers and even Hitler himself recognize him for a book he wrote condoning euthanasia in response to the frustration he felt because at his mother’s spiral into senility. Little did he realize that this played right into the plans they had for death camps. The irony of his “success” is that ultimately he is, as he claims to one of his Jewish friends, “Happy.” His life is accompanied by his own soundtrack (an affliction I’m afraid many of us suffer) and the various songs played by brilliant keyboardist Tim Hearn and bursting forth from various cast members to tunes of the period, are testament to the fact that even after he sees the misery and carnage, he can still claim, “But I’m happy.”

B. Weller is simply outstanding as John Halder. He manages to convince us that the horrors of Nazi Germany may not be so bad if you look at it logically. We know the reasons for his delusions, but we sympathize with him anyway because of his spirit and willingness to find “good” in every situation. Larry Dell shines as his best friend and confidante, Maurice. Even as the vise is closing in on him, he can’t convince John to help him escape the oppression. April Strelinger also gives a stand-out performance as John’s wife. She knows he is drifting from her romantically and emotionally, but she strives to make this relationship work.

Rachel Fenton is wonderful as John’s mistress, Anne. From the brilliant vocals (by a gorgeous Missy Miller) of Marlene Dietrich’s “Falling In Love Again” (sung in German) announcing his break from his wife and settling in with Anne to her endearing love for him, she convinces the audience why John has fallen for her. Unfortunately, from her bio, it looks like we’re losing one of the finest actresses we’ve seen in the past few years as Ms. Fenton is heading to California.

Missy Miller, as already mentioned, is superb as a sister and then as the wife of one of the SS officers. David Wassilak is that officer and is delightfully sneaky as the man who lavishes the praise and- perhaps lies- to convince John to join the Party and give his all to Hitler. Speaking of Hitler, Ben Ritchie plays the hated dictator in the first act and another influential officer in the second act. Teresa Doggett is powerful as John’s fading mother and Troy Turnipseed is equally compelling as another SS officer who influences a lot of John’s decisions. Paul Cooper rounds out the cast in fine fashion in a couple of roles.

A positive note as well to the production crew including Patrick Huber pulling double duty as set and light designer along with a nod to Christie Johnson as co-set designer.  Twelve chairs on a multi-level set is powerful and the dramatic lighting is essential to this highly involved production. Felia Katherine Davenport’s costumes are right on the money while Robin Weatherall’s deft handling of the sound and the music direction are flawless. Kudos to Cindy Duggan, too with her subdued but effective choreography.

Director Milton Zoth has laid it all on the line in this superb production. He shows how a moral and “good” man is swayed by love and politics and, above all, flattery, into a life that he never could have dreamed he would have fallen prey to. “Good” has been hailed as one of the best and most powerful plays about the spell Hitler and the Nazi’s cast over the German population. This production makes you a believer as you  see the deterioration of “good” people into a whirlpool of deceit, lies and horrors beyond belief. His choice to have all of the actors on stage during the entire production (most play at least two characters) is a statement in itself.

“Good” plays at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio at the Gaslight Square Theatre through October 21st. Contact them at 314-458-2978 or help@stlas.org for tickets or more information.

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