Incident at Vichy
Time Out says
Incident at Vichy: Theater review by Adam Feldman
This is a big theater season for Arthur Miller. Ivo van Hove’s revival of A View from the Bridge is currently taking audiences’ breaths away at the Lyceum Theatre; a new production of The Crucible, also to be directed by Van Hove, is scheduled to hit Broadway in the spring. Also—and it does feel like something of an aside—Miller’s 1964 one-act drama, Incident at Vichy, has just opened at the Signature. Set in a holding area for Jews in collaborationist France in 1942, the play is revived far less often than those other two; this production, though sometimes stirring, helps illustrate why.
Directed somberly by Michael Wilson, Incident at Vichy depicts 10 men who have been rounded up by the police on suspicion of being Jewish; their papers and their anatomy are to be checked. As they wait to be called into the back room—one by one, like in “Ten Little Indians”—they trade dark rumors of trains to death camps to the north, but no one knows much for certain. Among the men are a high-strung artist (Jonny Orsini), a socialist electrician (Alex Morf), a prim actor (Derek Smith) and a tall, handsome, 1960s-hero type: Leduc (Darren Pettie), a model tough Jew—he’s both a former soldier and a psychoanalyst—who calls on his fellows to attempt to resist.
On Leduc’s shoulders falls much of what has aged least well about the dialogue; his earnest urgency often sounds like an essay or a lecture. “Part of knowing who we are is knowing we are not someone else,” he says. “And Jew is only the name we give to that stranger. Each man has his Jew; it is the other.” This may be true—Miller illustrates it through the Jewish suspects’ suspicion of a Romani man (Evan Zes)—but it sounds like a playwright writing something other than a play. So, too, does the guilt of a German officer (James Carpinello) who drunkenly bemoans the impossibility of being human. The paradox of this highly discursive work is that the characters who say the least are in some ways the most effective: the Old Jew (Jonathan Hadary) who sits wordlessly in the back, perhaps not quite understanding what is happening, and the poignant Boy (Jonathan Gordon), who can see it all too clearly.
But the most compelling character by far in Incident at Vichy is neither a Jew nor a Jew-hunter. It is Von Berg, an elegant Austrian aristocrat portrayed with exquisite gravity, curiosity and grace by Richard Thomas. Von Berg, who has apparently been arrested by accident, despises the Nazis for their vulgarity and brutality, but has not done anything to stop them. It is he to whom Miller addresses his moral implorations; a spectator to other people’s tragedies, Von Berg serves as a surrogate for the audience. Dramaturgically stuffy though it may be, Incident at Vichy gives an airing to still-timely concerns. To modern Americans grappling with questions of privilege and responsibility, in relation to disadvantaged groups in America or abroad, the play remains a thrown gauntlet.
Pershing Square Signature Center (Off Broadway). By Arthur Miller. Directed by Michael Wilson. With Richard Thomas, Darren Pettie, Derek Smith. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
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