Inhumanity

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”—George Santayana

In Vichy, France, 10 people are brought in by the Nazis to supposedly have their identification papers checked.  When it is revealed that the Nazis are really looking for Jewish people to send to concentration camps, tensions rise, debates rage, plans form, and people vanish one by one.  Some to freedom.  Others to death.  This is Incident at Vichy by Arthur Miller and performing at several local venues under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

I’m going to start with the ending of this review.  If you miss this show, you will be doing yourself a massive disservice.

Now let’s go the beginning.

One of theatre’s most amazing powers is its ability to take us out of ourselves for a while.  But it doesn’t always take us to a happy place.  In those moments, another of theatre’s powers is revealed.  Its ability to be a powerful agent for change by forcing us to take a long look at ourselves to examine our pasts, our motivations, and our history in order that we might be able to make those changes.  Incident at Vichy is one of those types of plays.

This is Arthur Miller’s least known and produced work.  I hadn’t even heard of it until I saw it on the BSB’s schedule.  After watching it, I’m surprised at its obscurity because it is clearly one of Miller’s finest works.

Few writers had the ability to shine a light on the darker sides of humanity the way Miller could.  He could effortlessly show our prejudices, our brutality, our capacity for evil.  Yet there is always the silver lining of hope.  Never is that more important than for this play as Miller must bring his skills to bear on a real part of our history.

Scott Kurz returns to the BSB for the first time in several years to direct this production and hasn’t lost a step.  The piece is masterfully staged as the 10 people sit side by side on a bench and are taken away in order.  Movement is minimal, but expertly utilized in the tiny performance space.  Kurz’s direction is absolutely impeccable.  No energy is wasted.  Each beat carefully presented.  The show is perfectly cast and each member of the ensemble nails their role to the floor.

Where does one begin analyzing a cast like this?  All do a superlative job, but some truly memorable performances come from Jeremy Earl who gives one of his best and deeply emotional performances as The Waiter; Garett Garniss as Lebeau, an extremely nervous artist who constantly taps out a melody and laments the fact that he was caught simply because he wanted to take a walk and see something real; John Hatcher as Bayard, an electrician who instantly recognizes the danger this group is in; Josh Ryan as a gypsy who provides some levity as he protects his pot; Tom Lowe as a “social anthropologist” who is confident he can recognize Jews through the length of noses and circumcision.  His smugness was so aggravating that I wanted to punch him in the mouth.

David Sindelar also shines in a role as a silent rabbi whose curled hand suggests a stroke, but he is always aware of what’s going on.  Sindelar has a gift for acting with his eyes and you can tell when he’s feeling fear, concern, defiance, and sadness with an occasional click of the tongue or mutter or whimper thrown in for good measure.

Scott Kurz gives an A+ performance in his turn as Leduc.  His delivery is so natural and extemporaneous that his lines truly sound like they’re coming off the top of his head as opposed to being learned dialogue.  His Leduc is determined and courageous, willing to risk his life if it means saving some of the others.  Some have argued that Leduc may be the voice of Miller himself as he recognizes the depth of depravity in humans and always serves as that galvanizing force so others will confront evil instead of kowtowing to it or simply lamenting it.

David Mainelli is pitiable in his role as Monceau.  I think this role could easily be played as a sniveling coward, but Mainelli makes him more complex.  His take on the character is more akin to the typical attitude taken towards Hitler when he was first gaining power.  He truly cannot believe that the Nazis would be so animalistic and barbaric as to incinerate people in furnaces due to their faith and ethnicity.  His determination to cling to the law which should protect him is both admirable and tragic as it forces him to suppress his survival instinct.

Vince Carlson is brilliant as Von Berg, the Catholic prince of Austria who is the one person guaranteed to escape this horror.  The fact that he knows he will escape puts an extraordinary burden on his shoulders as he must decide what to do with his freedom.  Carlson does phenomenal work being bowed by this pressure.  Unlike the rest, he truly understands the extreme danger presented by Hitler.  He’s seen his servants venerate Hitler like a god.  He’s seen the destruction Hitler is bringing to the Jews.  Von Berg represents the part of the populace that must make the life or death decision to either turn a blind eye to the oncoming storm or make a stand against it.

Charleen Willoughby’s costumes really enhance the production and add a bit of crucial life to each of the performers from the spot-on uniforms of the Nazis to the elegant custom-made suit of Von Berg to the rags of the Gypsy to the working-class clothes of Bayard and Leduc.

Incident at Vichy shines a glaring light on one of the darkest periods of human history and Miller reminds us it is an evil that must not be permitted to rise again.  As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”.

Incident at Vichy continues through April 21.  The April 14 performance will be at Omaha Benson High School (5120 Maple St) at 2pm.  The April 19-20 performances will be at The B Side of Benson Theatre ((6058 Maple St) at 7:30pm.  The April 21 performance will be at Omaha Burke High School (12200 Burke St) at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 ($25 for students/senior/military) and can be obtained at www.bsbtheatre.com or 402-502-4910.

Get Bent

Max is a liar and con man.  He is also a marked man as Nazi Germany has passed a law outlawing homosexuality and ordering homosexuals rounded up and sent to concentration camps.  Max will do whatever it takes to stay alive and out of the clutches of the Nazis, but one lover will cause Max to hide his true self while another will restore it.  But the cost is terrifyingly high.  Discover the price in Bent by Martin Sherman and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

Sherman has written a neat little script that abounds with hope, tragedy, and even a touch of comedy along with some nice foreshadowing and surprises.  He also focuses on a lesser known bit of knowledge about Nazi Germany in that homosexuals were just as much of a target as the Jewish people with the twist that this group was viewed even less favorably.  Sherman uses an interesting conceit of having his primary characters have no accents despite their being German natives.  This adds an everyman quality to the characters showing that the evil and persecution they faced was a problem for humanity and not just a localized, national issue for Germany.

This play is uniquely suited to Joshua Mullady’s talents as a director as nobody knows how to craft character conversation scenes quite like him.  This is essential for this particular play as it is almost completely dialogue driven requiring a director who knows how to keep the life and energy pumping through the wordplay.  And Mullady does this in spades with his actors delivering extemporaneous dialogue with some of the sharpest cue pickups I have heard.

The entire cast does a fine job in supporting this story as each adds a precious bit of life to the production and all have absolutely perfect projection.  With that being said, I’d also like to salute Don Harris’ standout cameo performance as a bloodthirsty and psychotic Gestapo guard as he will make your blood boil with his cruelty and viciousness.

Ben Beck doesn’t even seem like he’s acting in this play as he is so natural and believable as Max.  He’s actually quite the scoundrel as he supports himself with cocaine dealing and con jobs and routinely lies like a rug.  But he also shows bits of a tender heart as he tries to help and save the two men in his life.  Unfortunately fate seems bound and determined to work against him as his own survival instinct crooks his efforts. This gives Beck the opportunity to beautifully sell two powerfully emotional scenes at the end of each act that are guaranteed to move even the coldest of hearts.

The two men in Max’s life require a bit of yin/yang quality and that quality is well embodied in the casting of Beau Fisher and Eric Grant-Leanna.

Beau Fisher plays Rudy, Max’s lover before his imprisonment by the Nazis.  Rudy’s function is to let Max be the strong protector.  Fisher embodies Rudy with a childlike innocence and trust in Max.  He is perfectly content to enjoy life as a dancer and watering his plants, fully trusting in Max to take care of the important things to ensure their survival.  But this childlike trust eventually destroys Rudy once he becomes the hunted as his happy-go-lucky existence renders him unable to fend for himself.  When he faces the ultimate challenge on his way to Dachau due to his need for glasses, Fisher’s screams and cries will chill you to the bone and his final fate will reduce you to a puddle of tears.

While Rudy allows Max to be the protector, the function of Horst, Max’s lover in Dachau, is to allow Max to be the protected.  Eric Grant-Leanna skillfully embodies this quality as he teaches Max how to survive in their personal piece of hell.  He’s tough.  He’s knowledgeable.  He’s loving.  He also helps Max to remember who he really is through his love which culminates in an incredibly and intense romantic scene made all the more stunning as it is done solely with the power of voice, words, and imagination as neither Max nor Horst ever touch each other.

I can’t say enough good things about the technical elements of this show.  Ben Adams’ set is a phenomenal, dilapidated flat that transforms into the barbed wire surrounded Dachau and in the midst of it all is the ominous pink triangle which marked all homosexuals in the concentration camps.  Zach Kloppenborg’s costumes are well suited to the era especially the costumes of the prisoners and stormtroopers.  As always, Joshua Mullady’s lights imbue the show with a special bit of life and Daena Schweiger’s sound design further bolsters the play, especially the air horns and crackle of the electrified barbed wire.

Though these voices be of the past, their words still ring loud and clear today. Our world is still very much in a war against evil and this play reminds us that we are still in the thick of a fight.  But it also reminds us that that fight can be won when good people bind together and counter it with faith, hope, peace, and love.

Bent plays at SNAP! Productions through Sept 17.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors (55+), TAG members, and military, and $12 for all Thursday shows.   For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature themes, Bent is not recommended for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.

A Dictator Rises at the Blue Barn

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Nils Haaland stars as Arturo Ui in “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at the Blue Barn Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to open Season 28 with Bertolt Brecht’s compelling and timely drama, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
BLUEBARN Producing Artistic Director Susan Clement-Toberer directs with Barry Carman serving as Assistant Director with set design by Martin Scott Marchitto, lighting design by Ernie Gubbels, costume design by Lindsay Pape, sound design by Molly Welsh, and properties design by Amy Reiner.
Shows run September 22 – October 16, 2016; Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday October 2nd, 9th, and 16th at 6 p.m. Single tickets for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui are $30 for adults; and $25 for students, seniors 65+, TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.  For tickets, please visit www.bluebarn.org or call at 402-345-1576 during the hours of 9:30am to 4:30pm (M-F).   The BLUEBARN Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is generously sponsored by Kate and Roger Weitz, Carter and Vernie Jones with additional support from Rich and Fran Juro.

About The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
A Slapstick Tragedy…
Described by Brecht as ‘a gangster play that would recall certain events familiar to us all’, Arturo Ui is a witty and savage satire of the rise of Hitler – recast by Brecht into a fictional, small-time Chicago gangster’s takeover of the city’s greengrocery trade in the 1930s. The satirical allegory combines Brecht’s Epic style of theatre with black comedy and overt moralism. Using a wide range of parody and spoof – from Al Capone to Shakespeare’s Richard III and Goethe’s Faust – Brecht’s compelling parable continues to have relevance wherever totalitarianism appears today.

About the Stars of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
BLUEBARN founding company member Nils Haaland brings Brecht’s title character to comic and menacing life. The acting company consists of many BLUEBARN Theatre veterans including: Paul Boesing (Frost/Nixon), J.J. Davis, Jennifer Gilg, Mary Kelly (33 Variations), Mark Kocsis, Daniel Luethke, Mike Markey (Our Town), Sydney Readman (Bad Jews), John Ryan, Paul Schneider, and Erika Sieff (Bug). Actors making their BLUEBARN debut include Steve Denenberg, Noah Diaz, Jens Rasmussen, Daena Schweiger, and Brennan Thomas.

About the Playwright: Bertolt Brecht
Bertolt Brecht was one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century. His works include The Threepenny Opera (1928) with composer Kurt Weill, Mother Courage and Her Children (1938), The Good Person of Szechwan (1942), and The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941). Brecht began writing plays while working at an Army hospital. Brecht’s work fit nicely with the Dadaist and Marxist movement of the time. The increased dissatisfaction with society after World War I fit Brecht’s anti-bourgeois writing. He fled Nazi Germany and settled in the US, until setting in Berlin following World War II.

About the BLUEBARN Theatre
The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company. Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons.