Incident at Vichy @ Beckett Theatre, New York

cast includes
Jack Koenig, Todd Gearhart, John Friemann, and Christopher Burns

directed by
Scott Alan Evans
This is the first New York revival of Arthur Millers Incident at Vichy since 1981.

While the production, directed by Scott Alan Evans, may well be of interest of those keen to see this lesser known play by Miller, for much of the audience it makes for a frustrating evening.

The opening moments of the play are genuinely powerful, ferocious even.

The use of music and lighting during the steady gathering of suspects is mesmerizing.

Unfortunately the play itself is the problem; it feels dated and didactic and, nothing afterwards quite matches the strength of these opening moments.
The one act play is set entirely in a detention waiting area for people, many of them Jewish, awaiting interrogations by Nazi and French Vichy officials. This should generate an atmosphere of extreme pressure and claustrophobia, but this intention is undermined by the size of the theater, the tension is diluted.

The play was written and first performed in 1964 and would have been more potent only 20 years after the end of the war. But since then, the subject of ordinary peoples complicity in the Holocaust has been mined repeatedly for dramatic content. Incident at Vichy is not particularly revelatory to modern audiences.

These subjects have been covered so thoroughly, that the play feels like a TV rerun, something that you have seen countless times before. I understand why a director might want to revive it, might think that the story would have relevance now – as an indictment of the general population turning a blind eye to governmental misdeeds. But the difference in degrees render the analogy meaningless. In the years since 1964 the Holocaust has become the unique event that all other evil is measured against. Incident at Vichy asks us to look at how ordinary citizens would react to the Holocaust now; but we have been asked this question all our lives. This play brings nothing new to the table.

That’s not to say this revival by The Actors Company Theatre doesn’t have its stong points. Of the performances, Jack Koenig, as the German Major forced by injury into this duty, is a stand out. His anger and frustration are never forced and he brings the perfect amount of weariness and futility to the role. He is frustrated by the pointlessness of the exercise, the hopelessness of the Jews’ plight, and the air of superiority of the SS.

The rest of the cast is capable, but none of them stood out in quite the same way. Part of the problem is, as I have said, with the play itself, peopled by a varied assortment of ‘types’ rather than characters one could come to care about. It feels like a lecture, a series of moral arguments, rather than a play.

From a design perspective, the lighting, by Mary Louise Geiger, was excellent and added much to the atmosphere of the staging. Otherwise, despite the considerable efforts of the cast and crew, the production felt flat. Incident at Vichy feels very much like a play of a past era and maybe, in this case, it should have been left there.

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