“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.