BLACK ANGEL, LeTraunik Productions, at Profiles Theatre. A few years ago Steven Spielberg spent more than three hours depicting Nazis as conscienceless beasts, and Americans lined up to cheer this facile and dangerous lie. In our age of intolerance, Schindler's List let America off the hook, making Nazis so unlike "us" that they may as well have been Martians. In fact Nazis were ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary movement; the only useful lesson to take from the Third Reich is just how susceptible all of us are to the forces of hate.
This is the lesson Michael Cristofer tries to teach in Black Angel, now receiving its Chicago premiere. In a smart and courageous move, he centers his play around Martin Engel, a fictitious, disarmingly sympathetic Nazi war criminal trying to survive his own crushing guilt while all around him Spielberg-ian zealots pin their own darkest impulses on him. Unfortunately, Cristofer's only got about a third of a great play--the final third--and he squanders the first two-thirds in overly poetic speeches by characters who mostly sit around and stare at one another. Director Mark-John McSheehy's cast dawdles along with Cristofer through the first act but pulls it together for a convincing, morally bewildering conclusion: despite performances ranging from embarrassing to admirable, the final half hour is a thrill. --Justin Hayford