Tuesday, October 23, 2012

GOOD • St. Louis Actors' Studio

C.P. Taylor's 1981 play is tough to categorize.  Some consider it a play.  Others, a play with music, and some consider it a musical comedy, but the subject matter is anything but light.  It takes a look at how the Nazi party is able to gain a foothold in Germany, filtered through the eyes of one man -- John Halder.  It has also already closed its run, but served as an intriguing introduction to St. Louis Actors' Studio's sixth season entitled, "Kings, Queens and Pawns".  John Halder, by the way, is a pawn…

Larry Dell (Maurice), Rachel Fenton (Anne),
Troy Turnipseed (Bouller/Eichmann), David Wassilak (Major),
Paul Cooper (Doctor), Ben Ritchie (Hitler),
B. Weller (John Halder), Missy Miller (Sister),
April Strelinger (Helen) and Teresa Doggett (Mother).
Photo credit: John Lamb
John Halder (B. Weller), is a mild-mannered professor of literature living with his wife and children in Frankfurt, Germany.  His wife Helen (April Strelinger) is so self-absorbed she can barely bring herself to do any housework, so John ends up doing most of the cooking and cleaning.  He also looks after his elderly Mother (Teresa Doggett) who is slipping further and further into dementia.  As trying as taking care of his mom can be, he does what he can, and on the surface seems like a "good" man -- he certainly thinks so anyway.  One of his only friends is Maurice (Larry Dell), a Jewish psychiatrist, who advises Halder about his "bad case of the bands".  See, Halder has this habit of setting the more influential moments in his life to music -- his own personal soundtrack, resulting in moments where people in his head literally burst into song.  It's deep that bizarreness.  It distracted me to no end when I saw it, but later it struck me as kind of brilliant.  While snapping you out of the action, it brings the major issues home.  Very Brechtian.  To me anyway.  Although, like I've expressed before, thinking too much about Brecht makes my head hurt...  Halder says at one point, "I do everything other people do - but I don't feel it's real."  This oddity seems to buffer the events in his life -- makes them unreal, and all the more unsettling.

When the Socialist party shows an interest in one of his novels about euthanasia (cough, cough, MOTHER, cough), he finds himself with a growing group of friends and a few rungs higher on the social ladder.  He also eventually leaves his wife for Anne (Rachel Fenton), a young student who is smitten with him.  Halder's steadily growing involvement with the Nazi party is infuriating and frustrating to Maurice, who is scared for his own life.  In the wave gaining momentum in 1930's Germany, being Jewish is not a good thing to be, but Halder blindly rationalizes his actions, insisting that this is just a passing fad.  It's chilling to see this man's ascent into the ranks of the SS, taking the path of least resistance to become an integral part of the horrors that were underway, ending up at the gates of Auschwitz in the stunning last scene.

B. Weller (John Halder).
Photo credit: John Lamb
B. Weller does a masterful job portraying the incredibly naive and weak but well-meaning Halder, managing to get the audience to identify with the real antihero of the story.  Teresa Doggett turns in a wrenching performance as Halder's mother, and April Strelinger and Rachel Fenton round out the rest of the women in Halder's life as his wife and mistress.  Larry Dell presents a powerful Maurice, the only voice of reason in the play, and David Wassilak makes for a quietly intimidating Nazi officer.  It can seem hard to maneuver on the small stage at the Gaslight Theatre, but under Milton Zoth's admirable direction, all 10 actors remain onstage throughout without seeming too crowded.  Creative contributions include scenic design and lighting design by Patrick Huber and Cristie Johnston, costumes by Felia Katherine Davenport, sound design by Robin Weatherall and choreography by Cindy Duggan.


Written by C.P. Taylor
Directed by Milton Zoth 
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
Run complete | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

B. Weller (John Halder), Larry Dell (Maurice), David Wassilak (Major/Freddie), April Strelinger* (Helen), Teresa Doggett (Mother), Missy Miller (Sister/Elizabeth), Troy Turnipseed (Bouller/Eichmann), Rachel Fenton (Anne), Ben Ritchie (Bok/Hitler) and Paul Cooper (Doctor/Dispatcher).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; costume design by Felia Katherine Davenport; sound design by Robin Weatherall; choreography by Cindy Duggan; scenic design by Cristie Johnston; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

Keyboards, Tim Hearn.

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