Normally, one could excuse the weaknesses in a play like Michael Redhill’s Goodness with the old axiom, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” However, the production’s combined flaws corrupt anything positive the play might have had to offer.

The playwright even decides to open the play with a formal apology for what you’re about to see-Redhill, in the person of actor Jordan Pettle, introduces himself to the audience, and explains what it is exactly he planned to do with the play, and how he hopes we’ll appreciate it.

The story itself is fine, if a little banal. It concerns Redhill’s quest to find people in Poland who were around at the time that his Jewish grandparents were killed during the Holocaust. No one is willing to talk to him, but just before he is to board his plane home, an old man in a bar offers him an opportunity: “Go to the building across the street, ring the bell of Althea (Lili Franks), and tell her the name ‘Mathias Todd’-she can give you the answers you’re looking for.”

The rest of the play involves Althea’s story, told through flashbacks, of how she was the prison guard for a war criminal in an unidentified (but fictional) country. The kicker (and this is where an old formula steps in) is that Todd (Victor Ertmanis) appears to be suffering from Alzheimer’s, and conveniently cannot remember the last 30 years, in which he was responsible for the deaths of thousands.

The problem with this story is that it has been done before, and better. Consider Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, in which he tries to comprehend what led to the death of so many in WWII Poland. In fact, Redhill’s story is even less prescient when one considers that a very similar situation has already been resolved in the real world. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, was initially given immunity from trial because of dementia, but that immunity has recently been revoked due to evidence that the malady may have been faked. Even at the end of the play, Redhill does not come up with a solution to this dilemma, just more questions.

Pettle acquits himself well as Michael, but does not have anything more to do than express guilt from time to time. Francks, as the older Althea, makes for a good narrator, and the two other male leads, Ertmanis as Todd, and Jack Nicholsen as prosecutor Stephen Part (the war hero in charge of the case) also put in commendable (if tame) performances.

The other two female roles, however, are another story. Tara Hughes (the young Althea) and Bernadeta Wrobel (Todd’s daughter, Julia) share the same acting range-which is to say, the same decibel level. While the pair may feel that shouting every emotional line drives their point across, instead all it does is unnerve the audience in the small Tarragon Theatre space.

And at what point will playwrights learn that breaking the fourth wall is never a good idea? The “fourth wall” refers to the invisible barrier between the audience and the actors. When people go to a play, they want to observe a story from a safe vantage point. Here, Michael deliberately pauses from time to time to tell the audience what he thinks of the scene or the characters, and even concludes the play by asking the audience, “What it’s like to be out there, watching these terrible things on stage?”

In any play, and especially with a plot like this, it is a lot better to watch and make up our own minds, rather than be forced to make decisions because the playwright turns and literally tells us to.

On the whole, Redhill comes up with some semi-interesting concepts, but even these are just a rehash of ideas addressed better elsewhere. There are certainly a few satisfactory parts to this play, but overall, Goodness is just bad.