Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Incident at Vichy



The Wall Street Journal marked Arthur Miller's death by dismissing him as a sentimental peddler of communist bombast. So thanks are due to Steep Theatre Company for highlighting Miller's unmatched ability to give his characters impossible moral choices, then show the significance of managing to fail with less than utter ignominy. Luke Hatton's taut staging of this nearly forgotten 1964 drama about a group of men in a Nazi detention camp keeps the stench of claustrophobia and potential collaboration constantly in the air. Which of the men waiting for police interrogation will be excused? Gradually it becomes clear that the real issue is which are Jewish, and that any doubts will be resolved by examination of their foreskins, or lack thereof. In this play the ultimate question revolves around manhood: at whose expense do you survive? The question's gender-specific nature annoyed me at first, and the play's all-male cast made me long for a similar chance to see a dozen actresses do their stuff. But soon the company's lean, muscular approach to the text eradicated those concerns. And while the piece goes on slightly too long, with moments where didacticism overwhelms drama, on balance this uninterrupted mix of ideas and emotions is exciting to the point of breathtaking. In a strong cast, particular kudos go to Rob Biesenbach as an equally sympathetic and repellent wounded German veteran, to Peter Moore as a smug Austrian count and Steve Emily as the Jew confronting him, and to John Wilson as a painter whose excitable state sets the tone for the whole piece. Through 4/2: Thu-Sat 8 PM. Steep Theatre, 3902 N. Sheridan, 312-458-0722. $15.

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