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New Rep’s Good Holds Mirror Up to the Evil Within Us

Timely revival will resonate in our pre-election tempest, says director Petosa

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For director Jim Petosa, the late Scottish playwright C. P. Taylor’s unsettling 1981 drama Good, which probes the banality of evil during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, is a mirror held up to a civil society on the brink. Petosa, director of the College of the Fine Arts School of Theatre, believed that in these ominous last days of a deeply polarizing presidential campaign, it was time to revive the play, with the clear intent of holding that mirror to ourselves and our nation.

Running through October 30 at the New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass., where Petosa is artistic director, Good is being produced in partnership with the Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP), the professional arm of the School of Theatre. The new production includes several actors who are reprising roles they first performed during a 2010 BCAP production of the play. And like that production, this one draws on the talents of a number of BU alumni, faculty, and students.

Michael Kaye in Good

In the New Rep production of Good, Kaye reprises his role as a hapless German professor whose theories are appropriated by the Nazis in Hitler’s Germany. He performed the part in 2010 and again this past summer. Photo by Frank Curran

The protagonist of Good, a German professor named John Halder, is played here, as in 2010, by Michael Kaye, a CFA assistant professor of acting and head of the MFA program in theatre education. It is a role subtly crafted to inspire both empathy and horror. As the play opens, Halder has written a book in defense of humane euthanasia. His work attracts the attention of Hitler, who seizes on Halder’s work to agitate for, in a humanist package, his acutely dehumanizing ideas of racial purity, plans for experimentation on humans and, ultimately, his so-called “final solution,” the extermination of the Jews. The Nazi seduction of Halder, who is swept up in his unexpected career advancement and sudden prestige and elite social standing, is complete when he rejects his family and his closest friend, who is Jewish. In justifying the Nazis’ atrocities, Halder is the corruptible everyman, shattering preconceived notions of inherent good and evil, and his gradual transformation makes the drama as compelling as it is disturbing, says Petosa.

“The play is both a cautionary tale and a wake-up call,” says Petosa, who is directing it for the fifth time. It “removes the monster from the monstrosity, and this play is really about that,” he says, making a reference to the “banality of evil” subtitle of Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt’s famous 1963 account of the trial of Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann. “Hitler’s a bit part in the play,” says Petosa. “The everyman at the center of the drama could be a man or woman sitting next to you in the theater. The play takes on that tension in the context of current events, when the stakes are so high. It continues to be remarkably resonant today as issues of demagoguery emanate from major political factions in the United States and around the world,” he adds.

In a review of an off-Broadway production of the play this summer at Atlantic Stage 2—also directed by Petosa and starring Kaye and several other actors who appear in the New Rep production—the New York Times cited the “visceral shock” of the events it portrays. The Times praised the revival for capturing “the insidious way that morally abhorrent ideas and systems can grow to seem quite normal, their harms rationalized away by ordinary citizens who would rather not look ugliness in the face.”

Interviewed by BU Today in a preview of his 2010 performance as Halder, Kaye said, “There’s no monster in a box. It’s real people who become these things, slowly, over time.” The play “forces the audience to confront themselves,” Kaye said, adding that, “When I first saw the play, I had a sense of, ‘I could have done that,’ and that’s what’s so scary. I liked Halder, I was charmed by him, and I could see myself making the same series of changes to take the easiest path.”

The cast for the current New Rep production includes Judith Chaffee, CFA associate professor of theatre emerita, and Tim Spears (CFA’06,’14), reprising their 2010 BCAP performances as Mother and Maurice, respectively.

Good runs through October 30 at the Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets range from $30 to $59, with a $7 discount for seniors and $20 tickets for full-time students with ID; $15 student rush tickets are available 30 minutes before curtain time, subject to availability. Parking is free in the Arsenal garage. Purchase tickets here or call 617-923-8487 for more information.

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