‘Good’: When compromise trumps conscience

Tim Spears and Michael Kaye in “Good.” Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Tim Spears and Michael Kaye in “Good.” Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

WATERTOWN – What can happen when we push our conscience into the background and out of the way as a matter of convenience?

What compromises can we make with ourself to rationalize the unthinkable?

The character at the center of C.P. Taylor’s “Good,” now being performed by the New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, eventually finds himself in a such a situation.

New Rep Artistic Director Jim Petosa has directed the piece in the past and this remount boasts his tight, taut direction and some strong performances. “Good,” co-produced with the Boston Center for American Performance, was intentionally positioned by Petosa to be performed just a short time before the presidential election, since he believes it speaks to forces at work during this election process.

“Good” was the final work of Scottish playwright C.P. Taylor, who died in 1981 at the age of 53, and is generally acknowledged to be his finest play.

In 1930’s Germany, critic, novelist, and university professor John Halder (Michael Kaye) sees the rising of the Nazis as a temporary phenonmenon, with the party to be ultimately rejected because of its radical views, especially when it comes to the Jews, many of whom, Halder notes, have lived in Germany for many generations and are pillars in the worlds of business, the law, science and academia.

So he is slow to recognize the threat, trying to calm his Jewish friend Maurice (an excellent Tim Spears, “Amadeus” and “The Elephant Man” at New Rep) – his only real friend in the world – who is alarmed that Halder doesn’t seem to be taking the threat seriously.

As Halder starts getting cozy with the Nazis, Maurice does his best to appeal to his conscience, at every step reminding him who he is bed with, and warning him that Jews are at risk. Halder will eventually be a Judas, denying being Maurice’s friend and betraying his friend again and again as he begins to swallow the party line an inch or two at a time.

Halder’s decisions are clouded because he is stressed and torn at every turn. Judith Chaffee is his troubled mother, who begs her son for relief from her institutionalization, and wife Helen (Christine Power) can’t bring herself to get interested in homemaking or her children, leaving John to handle them alone.

Halder begins to llose his way, inch by inch, even as he attracts the attention of a 19-year-old university student named Anne (Casey Tucker), who urges him to be “practical” in his dealings with the Nazis until they fade from the scene.

Alex Schneps’ Hitler is intentionally cartoonish, while Benjamin Evett brings us a crafty, cunning, scheming, Adolph Eichmann who butters up Halder and his work – especially a book that talks about mercy killings and euthanasia – and recruits Halder for his own purposes., as a respected academic who seems to believe or purports to believe in a philosophy that will eventually lead the Nazis to genocide.

Meanwhile, there is inner music that is speaking to Halder all the time, similar to the seductive siren call of the Nazis, who can provide Halder with power, prestige and protection.

Scenic designer Jiyoung Han has put together a stage with a black floor featuring documents, music and records scattered about and a piano at the back. Some audience members sit on either side of the stage, which gave me the impression of jury members sitting in judgment of Halder as the story unfolds.

“Good” works as a cautionary tale about where the world once was, how it got there, and how easily it is for evil to flourish when seemingly good men choose compromise over conscience.

Good.” Play by C.P. Taylor. Directed by Jim Petosa. Presented by New Repertory Theatre and Boston Center for American Performance. At Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown. Through Oct. 30. Tickets $30-$59, 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org