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Incident at Vichy
By Elyse Sommer
Michael Wilson, best known to Signature audiences for his masterful direction of the Horton Foote's The Orphans'Home Cycle proves himself to be as attuned to Arthur Miller's work as Foote's. While some of the seventeen actors he's brought to Jeff Cowie's ominous setting have more significant roles than others, under Wilson's direction they form an extraordinarily effective ensemble.
The interactions between those on stage are moment by intense moment revelations as to what has brought these frightened men with apparently little or nothing in common to this oppressive place. Every one of the potentially doomed victims as well as those controlling their fate are integral to Miller's powerful exploration of guilt and responsibility.
The play begins with the initial group of men trapped in that detention room apparently too bewildered and frightened to speak. The dim view through the window of an office at one side of the stage intensifies the sense of foreboding. You don't need to hear a word to understand and share their bewilderment as to why they are there?
The uneasy silence is broken by Lebeau (Jonny Orsini), the one man who can't seem to sit still or keep quiet. He nervously tries to draw the others into voicing their thoughts on what's going on and whether, like him, their noses were measured.
Since Lebeau seemed to be the only man undergoing that nose measuring the question arises as to whether this is just a routine general identity check, as Marchand (John Procaccino) an arrogant business man declares. When Marchand is called and released Lebeau is encouraged to think that he was right since to him the man did look Jewish.
Another key character, an actor named Monceau (one of the play's most fascinating characters, made even more so by Derek Smith), also takes heart from Marchand's release. He notes that Marchand's assuming an assured stance did the trick, and feels that being experienced in acting a part, he too can cover his terror by assuming Marchand's strong stance. Monceau's desperate delusion is echoed by Bayard (Alex Morf) who feels his socialist sympathies will be appreciated by the Nazis.
The waiter who serves the Nazis lunch ratchets up the tension with information about what he's seen and heard: that the Nazis are measuring each man's penis and that this is not a paper check, but a precursor to passage on a train taking Jews (as well as gypsies and other undesirables) to an extermination camp.
The likely reason for their arrest that the men have been in denial about turns into horrifying reality with the arrival of four more detainees. Two who have little to say are the first obvious Jew, a bearded man (an unrecognizable Jonathan Hadari)and a timid boy (Jonathan Gordon). The two men who are most critical to the play's heart stopping finale are Leduc, a Jewish doctor, and Von Berg, a decent, music loving Austrian Prince who hated his countrymen's embrace of what he considers the vulgarity of Nazism. These two men are magnificently portrayed by Darren Pettie and Richard Thomas.
The play's exploration of the moral dilemma faced by the perpetrators of the war's atrocity comes via a German Major (James Carpinello), wounded in the war and assigned to this unit. He despises the work they do and their civilian leader, Professor Hoffman (an aptly creepy Brian Cross). His effort to leave makes you think about all enlisted in a bad cause, but too weak to find a way to avoid being inextricably caught up in its web..
Director Wilson never lets the tension flag and allows the individual characters' hopeful moments to give way to their justified mounting desperation. David Woolard's costumes contribute to each character's individuality. David Landers and John Gromada's lighting and sound design heighten the scenario that becomes increasingly scary as each man disappears into the office.
Arthur Miller was inspired to write Incident at Vichy by what happened during the second World War. But issues of power, complicity, guilt and responsibility didn't end with that war, making this compellingly relevant play one that should be done more often. Don't miss it.