Incident at Vichy
Review By: Carey Purcell
Presented by The Actors Company Theatre (TACT), this riveting one-act play fearlessly addresses how and why the Holocaust took place, from the perspective of both the perpetrators and the victims.
This brilliantly acted, swiftly directed production takes place in a detainee cell in the Nazi-occupied city of Vichy, France. A group of men have been randomly selected from the city streets and, while awaiting interrogation, they anxiously discuss and debate their impending fate. It is clear that most of them are aware of what is happening, but they all hesitate to admit it. Many conversations begin and end before the word “Jewish” is even spoken. Whispers of what is happening at the concentration camps are reaching the Jews who have not been detained yet, and their lack of resistance is perturbing, to say the least. Yet most of them cling – desperately – to their denial.
Very little action takes place onstage, and it is the lack of action that makes this show so riveting and heartbreaking. The lack of, well, anything, is what permitted the Holocaust to take place and last for as long as it did. When a waiter who was pulled from his job to be interrogated recognizes one of his co-workers serving the interrogators, he begs him for help, but the co-worker continues to walk away without doing a thing.
Cruelty is hinted at, rather than shown, and no example demonstrates this further than when an elderly, Orthodox Jew (John Friemann) is pulled into the interrogation room and malicious laughter echoes onstage while solemn conversation takes place between the two remaining men.
The only time when violence comes to close to taking place onstage occurs during a confrontation between Leduc (Christopher Burns), a psychoanalyst and veteran of the French army, and the Major (Jack Koenig), a disabled veteran of the Germany Army. Leduc begs the Major to help them escape, saying the action would cause him to love and respect the Major for the rest of his life. The Major, who has admitted his own bewilderment at the goings-on of his army, brutally rejects Leduc, saying the choice is irrelevant and “there are no persons anymore.”
This play proves that statement wrong, simply by the conversations that take place as the men anxiously await their turn in the detainee room. After everyone else has been taken, Leduc and Von Berg, a member of Austrian royalty (Todd Gearhart), remain. The two men furiously discuss their options, and their differing viewpoints of the world, all the while waiting, and dreading, the call for them to enter the room with the officers.
The performances are excellent, even heartbreakingly, earnest, and this random group of men’s frantic attempts to make sense of what is happening to their world are honest, but not overwrought.
In no way is this an easy play to watch, which perhaps explains why it is rarely performed. It is morally complex, ethically confusing and a harsh reminder of the atrocities human beings have committed in the past and continue to commit more than fifty years later. While not comparable, the parallels between what took place at Vichy and has happened at Guantanamo Bay are inevitable. As the lights dim and the show ends, as one group of men have been ushered offstage, another group is then ushered on. This simple, quiet image of cyclicality and continuity is riveting, remaining with the audience long after leaving the theater.