BWW Review: INCIDENT AT VICHY at Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company
Sometimes you see a play that burrows under your skin like a parasite. It grows. And soon it's all you can think of. That's how I feel about Arthur Miller's INCIDENT AT VICHY.
Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company under the direction of Scott Kurz leads a stellar all male cast probing the minds of ten men brought in for questioning in Vichy, France in 1942. The reactions of the men intensify as they wait, struggling to make sense of their detention. Is it a simple check for forged documents? Is there a forced labor decree? Is there a certain "flavor" of man represented in this French police station or why else would someone measure my nose? What is the common denominator?
This is more than a character study. This is a study of the basic human nature we all share, digging into what we are made of, how we perceive others, and what would we do if met with the same crisis. At the center of these questions are a Nazi soldier, Major (Scott Working), an Austrian prince, Von Berg ( Vince Carlson), and a former Army soldier turned psychiatrist, Leduc (Scott Kurz).
Major is not here willingly. He has been injured in battle and sent to the French police station to what he thought was a desk job. He tries to get released from this assignment which is becoming more clearly a Race Program. Major is one of the good guys. But he is trapped by responsibility and powerless to act. He finds the rounding up and death of people based on their race "almost as inconceivable to me as it is to you." He asks Leduc a theoretical question which is the heart of the play: "If you were released and the others were kept...would you refuse?" This is the question I cannot shake.
Leduc doesn't believe that any Gentile can be free from a measure of hatred toward Jews. He deals with understanding the mind as a psychiatrist, but as prior combat soldier, he is a man of action. He attempts to organize an assault on the lone soldier guarding the door, but only the weak are willing to try. The others have reasons...or excuses...why they cannot. Too old. Too afraid. Too sure this isn't what it seems. Too sure it would end in a bad outcome. After all, are we willing to sacrifice our life so some might live? Even if some would survive, what is that to me if I am not one of them?
Von Berg is here because he has an accent and is therefore suspect. He is not Jewish. He is a nobleman who believes the Nazis are vulgar. Anyone with good taste in art cannot be evil and cannot go about hounding the Jews. Von Berg lost musicians he'd employed. They were rounded up and killed just as they finished their most beautiful piece. What was almost worse to him, he said, was that his friends seemed indifferent when he told them. Von Berg is a noble man, torn by the inhumanity he's seen in the human spirit and the belief that mankind is basically good.
Monceau (David Mainelli), an actor, disagrees with Von Berg. He found that German audiences he had played to respected the arts and listened passionately to music. Monceau denies the rumors he's heard. His answer is presentation. If you show confidence, the Nazis will believe that you are innocent. His reality is playing a part well enough to be free.
Bayard (John Hatcher) the Socialist disagrees with Monceau. If he has to play a part to tell his rightness, he is in a bad way. The real answer is a future where the working class is master of the world. But Bayard the railroad yard worker also sees the present and tells the others that a train pulled in with a Polish conductor. One of his switchmen saw cars locked from the outside and heard people inside. The smells were terrible. Bayard the pragmatist advises his fellow detainees that if they find themselves in such a train car to get out before it reaches its destination.
Another confident man on the benches is a businessman in creased trousers. Marchand (Isaac Reilly) completely distances himself from the others. He is convinced that if papers are in order, everyone will be free to leave. His main concern is being able to make a phone call to let his appointment know that he has been delayed. He is the first called into the Captain's office and does indeed walk out a free man, white pass in hand. He is not a part of this problem. It is of no concern to him.
The artist Lebeau (Garett Garniss) is the antithesis of Marchand. He is a jittery man who cannot sit still. He wants a cup of coffee and hasn't eaten since yesterday. Lebeau blames his mother for being unwilling to leave her brass bed and some fourth-rate crockery when they had a chance to leave for America in 1939. He asks questions incessantly, desperately trying to make sense of an unreal situation. Lebeau decries people for asking what his paintings mean, "Look at it, don't ask what it means; you're not God, you can't tell what anything means." Yet he searches for meaning.
The remaining men on the benches are a silent Old Jew (David Sindelar) dressed in traditional style with a long beard who clings to his bag, a young boy (Jackson Hatcher) detained while pawning his mother's wedding ring for food, and a gypsy (Josh Ryan) attached to a pot that he has repaired but the others suspect him of stealing. In fact, they HOPE that he has stolen it and that is a reason for his detention. The fourth man is a waiter still in his apron (Jeremy Earl) who melts into a panic when a whispered conversation tells him the inconceivable.
The Captain (Christopher Scott), the Detective (Jack Zerbe), and the Guard (Dennis Stessman) -who actually paces back and forth outside the venue door dressed with a Nazi armband- are just doing their jobs. Are they compartmentalizing? Do they understand that they are complicit in the murder of innocent people whether they agree with the policy or not? Laughter from the back room is awful as it collides with the fact that people are being condemned to death. Professor Hoffman (Tom Lowe) believes he is doing necessary work in the Race Project.
INCIDENT AT VICHY was written by Arthur Miller because of his own Jewish heritage and a 1963 visit to Austria where they stopped by Mauthausen death camp. They were given a tour through the barracks with commentary by an Austrian watchman who appeared to be curiously unmoved by the horrific events that had taken place.
A line from the play reads "How can there be persons anymore?" Isn't this is the core of the problem? People are not individual persons. They are grouped into boxes. Anyone outside our box becomes "that Jew." And we allow atrocities because those boxes don't belong to us.
Brigit Saint Brigit's production will worm itself into your head and stay there until you work it out. Because the material is so provocative, I have allowed myself to dissect the characters while not saying much about the cast themselves. Their performances will speak for them. They are truly moving. This drama has power.
Performances left: April 19 and 20, 7:30 pm.