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A CurtainUp Review
Incident at Vichy
A stellar ensemble cast revives a stirring production of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy. What happens to men when trapped in a terrifying situation? That is only the beginning of Miller's examination of guilt and responsibility.
When an artist, Lebeau (Mark Alhadeff), anxious and jumpy, asks for coffee he is ignored. He turns to ask Bayard (Ron McClary), a burly laborer, if he knows what's going on. He does not. Lebeau asks the others. No one knows. The others try to calm him down, mainly to keep themselves contained until they are brought into the office and hopefully released.
The group is disparate: a gypsy, a prince, a psychoanalyst, a boy and so on. They try to make sense of the senseless. Revealing only the essentials about themselves, each tries to maintain his individuality in the grip of a power that is trying to dehumanize him. Except for the boy and an old man who sit paralyzed, each one argues why he should not be here. Gregory Salata layers actor Monceau's terror with a desperate elegance, maintaining that his immortal portrayal of Cyrano will surely set him apart. Bayard claims Nazis are working people and will sympathize with his socialism. Psychoanalyst Leduc (Christopher Burns) fought in the war. The waiter serves the Nazis lunch. Lebeau, always agitated, asks if anyone else had his nose measured.
They all avoid what is evident, that he is there because he's a Jew. If that's the reason, it's all over. John Freimann plays the only obvious Jew, an old man with a beard and a hat, clutching a bundle. He sits alone, no one talks to him, and no one knows better than the old man himself why he is here. The 14-year-old boy, played compellingly by Russell Kahn, sits taut and horrified, listening for something hopeful. When the aloof Marchand (James Prendergast) finally speaks, he maintains that this is just a question of checking legal papers. It is surely no more than that. They learn, however, that there is more. The officials are checking penises, and those detained will be sent to extermination camps.
When the terrified boy finally speaks, he reveals he was taken while running to the pawn shop trying to sell his mother's wedding ring. He has to bring the desperately needed money back home. It is the most important thing in his mind, as he repeats, "It's all we have." When he realizes he will be sent away, he begs the prince to take the ring back to his mother.
Played by Todd Gearhart, Prince von Berg is a decent art-loving Austrian who despises the Nazi's vulgarity and abandoned his heritage to emigrate to France. He felt he was aware of everything happening in Europe. Gradually, he comes to accept complicity by not taking action. His growth is key to this play, peaking in a confrontation with Leduc, who finally admits he is a Jew and maintains that everyone discriminates against "the other", adding, "Even the Jews have their Jews." Also vital is the German Major (Jack Koenig), wounded in the war and assigned to this unit. At one point he tries to leave but is forced by the "Professor" in charge to stay
Director Scott Alan Evans adeptly builds the tension. He elicits individual portraits from each ensemble player, never losing his grasp on their mounting fear and flashes of hope. With lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, he introduces them dramatically — first Lebeau, then a blackout. Then Bayard, another blackout. And so on. Tension is further heightened when each is called into the office. If he returns, it gives hope to the others. The anxiety mounts.
Scott Bradley's detention set is appropriately bleak, the office to one side with its dirty windows opaque enough for those waiting to barely discern what is happening inside. Appropriate dress by David Toser puts an ascot on the actor, neat suits for Marchand and Prince von Berg, and shabby street or work clothes for the others.
First produced in 1964, there is no resolution as this gripping play ends with a face-off between two non-Jews. It is clear that in the events that followed, we still seem to be at the same face-off point regarding power, complicity, guilt and responsibility. The compelling relevancy of Incident at Vichy is not to be missed.
Editor's Note: For more about Arthur Miller and his work, see our Arthur Miller backgrounder.