By Michele Markarian
Incident at Vichy, by Arthur Miller. Directed by Hatem Adel and Daniel Boudreau. Presented by Praxis Stage, Inner Sanctum, 1127 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA, through January 26.
The year is 1942. Nine men and one fifteen-year old boy find themselves in a detention center in Vichy, France. With one exception, none of them have committed any crime in the eyes of the authorities, save for one thing – they’re Jewish. The reality of this fact differs for each of them – several men, like Leduc and Lebeau, have been in hiding already. Monceau, an actor, believes that with the right aplomb, he can pull off anything, including false papers. The Waiter, who regularly serves the German officers, keeps insisting that they’re nice. Bayard, a Socialist electrician, believes that the working class will rise up and defeat the elitist Nazis. He is incensed when von Berg, the only known non-Jew in the prison, insists that the Nazis are working class. The tension between those who are in denial of what is happening around them and those who know the truth is only eclipsed by the tension and fear that they all share at being held. Various authority figures come in and out of the room, occasionally summoning one of the captives to another room offstage, which only makes the men more fearful.
Worse, this is taking place in France, land of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. None of these men like the Germans and what they stand for, but you can see how easy it would be to go into denial – how can this be happening in their own country? (Does it sound familiar yet?) When Bayard tells his fellow captives what he has heard about the trains, how the people are locked inside, how the stench is overwhelming, nobody wants to believe him. (Bayard has some great lines. When he declares “Man was not meant to be the slave of big business”, I swear you could hear the audience inhale sharply.) Hope leaves the stage in stages – with each man that is taken into the holding room and doesn’t come out, with the realization that any means of escape is logistically impossible – until the end of the play, where we are left with the one gesture of humanity bestowed upon Leduc by von Berg. While not exactly hopeful, it serves as a reminder that not all people are brutes.
As an ensemble, the cast of “Incident at Vichy” is terrific. Given the differences of opinion among the prisoners and the arrogance of the guards and officers, I would imagine that there is an awful lot of trust and camaraderie shared between this cast of sixteen men. Nathan Johnson plays the artist Lebeau with poignancy. Danny Mourino gives a powerful performance as the fierce, tense Bayard. Jake Athyal is convincing as the rational Leduc, while David J. Anderson is fearsome as Professor Hoffman. Steve Auger is touching as von Berg, the Austrian prince, and Floyd Richardson projects pure terror as the pitiful Old Jew.
Co-founders and Artistic Directors Adell and Boudreau formed Praxis Stage in response to what they call the disaster of Trump’s Presidential election. This, in my book, is one of the few good things to come out of Trump’s election – the ability of art to affect change. When von Auger declares of the Nazi government, “They are striving for a new nobility, the nobility of the totally vulgar. It will prove that they exist, that they’re sincere”, he may as well be talking about 21st century American politics. For more info, go to: https://www.facebook.com/praxis.stage/