C(ecil) P(hillip) Taylor

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T. E. Kalem

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History is a nightmare into which the antihero of Good sleepwalks. John Halder … is a decent enough human being. He is kind to his wife Helen …, though she is an execrably sloppy homemaker. Even if he has to cook the meal, he sees to it that his three children are properly fed. With his mother …, who is blind, senile and bitter. Halder is agonizingly solicitous….

By vocation, Halder is a professor of German classics who also writes novels. He is the sort of man who is appalled by the fact that Goethe refused to send Beethoven money when the composer was in desperate need…. At Good's end, this decent, liberal-minded scholar has become Eichmann's right-hand man at Auschwitz.

How did it happen? Paradoxically, the late British playwright C. P. Taylor does not, initially, seem to be the best possible man to ask. He poses the question engrossingly, but most of the answers he provides seem either tantalizingly elusive or logically implausible. Halder is a congenital daydreamer. Not only the taste of reality but the feel of it eludes him. This fact is incorporated in the structure of the play by the presence on-stage of a six-man band. The musicians punctuate Halder's crises, conflicts and decisive indecision with marching songs, waltzes, jazz tunes and snatches of opera. These are the intravenous tranquilizers with which Halder suppresses the torment of truth. Good is a trip through the inner space of a troubled mind; just as others hear voices, Halder hears ironic and beguiling music….

The bands play on, and Halder marches in lockstep. Only as he is greeted by the strains of Schubert's March Militaire from the camp's orchestra at the gates of Auschwitz does he realize that he has supped full of horrors. This time, and he shrieks it out, "The band was Real! The band was Real!" With this shattering climax, Good achieves a high pitch of luminous moral gravity. Venturing beyond easy and merely plausible answers about how a good man succumbs to evil forces, Playwright Taylor has etched the profile of an insidiously disarming process. That process was perhaps best described by Britain's belletrist of metaphysics, C. S. Lewis: "The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

T. E. Kalem, "Gently Insidious Slope to Hell," in Time (copyright 1982 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 120, No. 17, October 25, 1982, p. 78.

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