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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
INCIDENT AT VICHY
at Pershing Square Signature Theatre

DISTRUSTFUL STRANGERS
By BERNARD CARRAGHER

  James Carpinello and company/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Playwright Arthur Miller would have been 100 this past October, and the New York theater is celebrating his birthday with several productions. Off- Broadway there is Miller's 1964 play Incident at Vichy, which is ending its engagement at the Signature Theatre on Dec. 20. Dutch director Ivo von Howe's minimalist version of his 1955 play A View from the Bridge is on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre through Feb. 21. In the spring, von Howe will take an iconoclastic look at another one of Miller's plays, The Cruciblewritten in 1953, about a man charged with witchery in colonial times in Salem, Massachusetts.
 
Miller’s Incident at Vichy is an incisive, curt and frightening 90-minute indictment of those deep-rooted human hatreds that made possible the Nazi madness of the 1930s and early 1940s. In arraigning all those who conspired in action, or did so by their silence with the anti-Semitism of World War I, it challenges not only the gentiles, but also the Jews themselves.
 
The play begins in a room full of tension, in a grim waiting room of a building, designed by Jeff Cowie, which looks like an impressive, war-wrecked station where seven men sit waiting in silence and apprehension. The time is 1942. The place is Vichy, headquarters of the French government that collaborated in submission to the Nazi conquerors.
 
Since this group is frightened and unsure why they have been picked up by the police, they are wary of one another, but as the garrulous artist Lebeau (Johnny Orsini) begins to talk and question the others, it becomes apparent that all but two are Jews. That they are all there to have their passports checked, and that the Jews among them will very surely be loaded onto a sealed freight train waiting in a railroad yard destined for a crematory in Poland.
 
As they begin to talk, the men identify themselves as individuals. All are under the strain of fear, and the terrible tension of uncertainty causes most of them to open up to one another. There are two exceptions: the Gypsy (Evan Zes) picked up because he has stolen a kettle, who only shrugs and laughs, and an aged Jew (Jonathan Hadary) who clutches a big bag as he sits and waits, never opening his mouth.
 
Incident at Vichy is a short, sharp play in one long act, and makes each of the prisoners representative of human beings. The psychiatrist, Doctor Leduc (Darren Pettie), merges eventually as a better and eloquent spokesman for Miller, as he has a clear probing mind. He asks the incisive questions that force the others to face up, as well as they can, to tell the truth about hatred. Leduc is the one who breaks through the self-delusions of an Austrian Prince Von Berg (beautifully played by Richard Thomas), a gentile who has been dragged in along with the others, who will be surely cleared when his papers are seen. The Prince considers himself an “innocent bystander” until Leduc gives a blunt speech about guilt that is in all of us, and brings the Prince into a shocked recognition.
 
Incident at Vichy is not the best of Miller’s plays – like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons or The Crucible. Here, there seems to be more discussion than drama. In one sequence a German officer, sickened by his part in the query, makes an insane attempt at self-justification. What happens afterwards, to me, is completely melodramatic – well-meant and honorable, but dramatically ridiculous.
 
Michael Wilson directs this provocative drama well, and gets fine, excellent performances out of the 17 actors. The play’s ending comes across as weak, but until then Miller’s play is still today a memorable drama that deserves to be revived.

 


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