C(ecil) P(hillip) Taylor Brendan Gill

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Brendan Gill

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Good"] is superb theatre—a classic mingling of strong subject matter, entertaining presentation, and flawless acting…. [One] isn't likely to encounter a more satisfying experience on Broadway throughout the rest of the season….

"Good" describes the rise of Hitlerism in the thirties as it affects the lives of two characteristic Germans, Halder and Maurice—the former a Christian, the latter a Jew. They are cultivated members of the upper middle class and are intimate friends. As the play begins, they agree that Hitler's attacks upon the Jews—still largely verbal in nature—are a temporary political aberration; once he has achieved sufficient power, he will abandon the attacks, for how is Germany to do without its Jews, who have provided so much of the country's artistic and scientific glory? Years pass, and Maurice is obliged to change his mind; he has become the victim of a formal program of anti-Semitism whose purpose is to exterminate him and all his kind. Halder, a much admired professor and novelist, can afford to continue his lifelong bent for accommodation. Hasn't he spent many years accommodating to a slatternly wife and a senile mother? Hasn't he manifested a discipline in regard to his career so rigid that his only weakness may be said to be his fondness for popular band music? He is convinced that he is an essentially good person, and that if he is ever confronted by authentic evil he will know how to deal with it.

The fact is, of course, that Halder's nominal goodness has little to do with virtue; it is a mere cosmetic niceness of manner and appearance, behind which he does whatever he pleases. When a pretty student falls in love with him, he abandons his wife for her, and not least willingly because the student keeps telling him how good he is. Like a man going down steps who believes himself to be climbing, Halder marches straight into Hitler's convenient embrace. The last scene is one to which every earlier moment of the play has unerringly aimed; it is a scene of such exceptional vividness that it deserves to be experienced at first hand, without any hints as to its nature….

[Despite] its dark content, "Good" is often comic, and the playwright's art is such that we are able to laugh even at what we are appalled and frightened by. (p. 160)

Brendan Gill, "Steps Going Down" (© 1982 by Brendan Gill), in The New Yorker, Vol. LVIII, No. 36, October 25, 1982, pp. 160-61.∗