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Jane Enkin

 
Fringe play review: Good People Bad Things

by Jane Enkin, July 21, 2013

Written, performed and produced by Daniel Thau-Eleff
Direction and dramaturgy by Chris Gerrard-Pinker
With assistance from Arne MacPherson
July 17 -28 8:30 pm 100 Arthur Street, Winnipeg
August 8 – 18 at the Toronto SummerWorks Festival

Good People Bad Things is outstanding theatre. Daniel Thau-Eleff gives a moving, energized performance as the narrator, Daniel, whose experiences are based on Thau-Eleff's own. Those experiences and the thoughts and questions that rose from them have been crafted into a tightly written and directed play.

For a more detailed exploration of the content of the play and the author's ideas, please read my interview with Thau-Eleff in an earlier edition of the Winnipeg Jewish Review online.

Briefly, Thau-Eleff interweaves stories of his engagement with his Jewish education with a Zionist slant and his pro-Palestinian activism, his encounter with the Holocaust through Hannah Arendt's biography of Eichmann, and an experience as a volunteer on an organic farm that belonged to a couple with a troubled relationship. In each case, from their own perspective those involved see themselves as “good people,” people who start with a sense of community, compassion and idealism.

 

The play opens with a striking first image. Thau-Eleff stands, immobile, emotionally stuck, in profile against a large screen, with “Good People Bad Things” projected on to his face. Then he moves to centre stage, speaking directly to the audience, but the motif of feeling stuck resonates throughout the play. So often, the character knows that “something is wrong,” but feels challenged to do anything about it.

As Daniel moves smoothly back and forth between the stories he has to tell, he reveals new insights and questions. Although the stories are told in past tense, the character is constantly surprised and challenged by his thoughts while he tells them. Devastating, impersonal facts and figures are played against disturbing portraits of individuals. Daniel keeps finding echoes of himself in these stories of other peoples' lives.

Connections between the stories come out in evocative images. As a volunteer on the organic farm, Daniel's job involved picking potato bugs from plants and squishing them. One day, a neighbouring farmer sprayed all his fields, and there were piles of dead bugs on the organic farm as well. Daniel's job had disappeared. “There's no blood on my hands!” he shouts to the audience.

The play and the performance are in turn disturbing and funny, engaging both emotionally and intellectually. The play leaves the audience with big questions: What would be the implications of living with real consciousness of the systems we all take part in? What would be the implications of simply walking out of a given system? As Thau-Eleff puts it, “The big question is 'How do we live?'”

I highly recommend Good People Bad Things to Winnipeg Fringe audiences and to audiences in the upcoming Toronto SummerWorks Festival.

 
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