Thursday, March 19, 2009

Incident at Vichy


By Arthur Miller; Directed by Scot Alan Evans. At the Beckett Theater. (CLOSED)

Leaving aside The New Yorker (whose late breaking C- brings the show's grade down from A- to B+), The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) gets high marks for their revival of Arthur Miller's Holocaust drama. Initially dismissed (and heavily criticized) by critics in the 60s, reviewers this time around agree that the play is ripe for reevaluation, praising in particular Scott Alan Evans' tension-building direction and a solid cast.

Lighting and Sound America A
(David barbour) [A] taut exercise in existential terror... Much of the production's power comes from Scott Alan Evans' direction, which invests the action with a present-tense quality that vividly evokes the second-by-second tension of waiting to find out if one is going to live or die. He has assembled a cast that plays with fine restraint.

NYTheatre A
(Stan Richardson) The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) could not have picked a more relevant play for this damaged and distracted country where the most popular form of protest seems to be joining a sassy-named group on Facebook. Director Scott Alan Evans is at the helm of a stirring and stinging production that puts nothing in the way of the play itself. An extraordinary ensemble of 15 men share three benches—some, such as the Old Jew (John Freimann) and the Gypsy (Leif Huckman) sit in terrified silence; others, such as the painter Lebeau (Mark Alhadeff), can talk as much as the Federal Reserve prints currency, the value of his words decreasing with each breath. But every figure in this powerfully understated revival makes a distinct impression.

CurtainUp A
(Elizabeth Ahlfors) A stellar ensemble cast revives a stirring production of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy. What happens to men when trapped in a terrifying situation? That is only the beginning of Miller's examination of guilt and responsibility...Director Scott Alan Evans adeptly builds the tension. He elicits individual portraits from each ensemble player, never losing his grasp on their mounting fear and flashes of hope. With lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, he introduces them dramatically — first Lebeau, then a blackout. Then Bayard, another blackout. And so on. Tension is further heightened when each is called into the office. If he returns, it gives hope to the others. The anxiety mounts.

Time Out NY A-
(Pamela Newton) With its deep intelligence and high tensions, Miller's drama is quite stunning, if not very subtle. Scott Alan Evans's reverence for the text is evident in his sober direction, and the adept cast mines the humanity of their (sometimes sketchy) characters. Exchanges between a nervous painter (Mark Alhadeff) and an electrician with a proletarian dream (Ron McClary) are especially effective, and Gregory Salata is heartbreaking as an optimistic aesthete who refuses to accept the realities of war.

Backstage A-
(Karl Levett) Audience reaction to this 80-minute intermissionless drama is going to vary, with each viewer responding to different aspects on display. Let's call them the three faces of Arthur. Some will see a well-crafted, moving story of dramatic intensity, alive with contrasting characters, weighted with philosophical content. Others will see only a high-toned moral debate that overwhelms the drama as it juggles guilt, complicity, and personal responsibility and utters things like "We have learned the price of idealism." And for some (especially younger playgoers), on show will be a record of an intriguing, not-much-known historical event that throws a scorching searchlight on Jewish identity. Under Scott Alan Evans' sensitively streamlined direction, all three faces merge into an absorbing whole

NYTimes A-
(Neil Genzlinger) Riveting... Scott Alan Evans, the director here, starts with the tension high, thanks to a quietly chilling opening montage, and keeps it that way. His cast, given the difficult job of creating full characters with only the sketchiest of back stories, delivers expertly. Mark Alhadeff as a chatty artist, Ron McClary as an ardent Socialist and Gregory Salata as an actor who thinks a good performance in the interview room will set him free are particularly fine. Miller gave himself a lot to do in what is an intermissionless play: flesh out the stories of the detainees, develop some dynamics among the German and French interrogators, explore themes of personal responsibility and reluctance to stand up to authority, suggest (by placing a Gypsy among the prisoners) that even victims of racism can be racist. Perhaps that’s why his denouement involving the final two detainees, a psychiatrist (Christopher Burns) and an Austrian prince (Todd Gearhart) who has been swept up by mistake, doesn’t land with full force.

OffOffOnline B+
(William Coyle) There is no doubt that Incident at Vichy is a thorough and broad condemnation of inaction in the face of evil. Miller was unapologetic about making the audience uncomfortable. And, even with Leduc psychoanalyzing the rationales of the survival strategies of his fellow prisoners, Miller’s writing mostly avoids overt didacticism. TACT’s production is a potent and fitting return of this overlooked classic.

TheaterMania B+
(David Finkle) Much of the play registers as didactic as it depicts anxious detainees -- most of them Jewish -- hunkering on a detention-room bench and concerned their papers won't get them dismissed by the presiding authorities. The fevered opus frequently comes across as a moralizing debate as well as a patent use of the Holocaust to hold viewers emotionally hostage. Nevertheless, this production, directed by Scott Alan Evans with clarity and compassion and acted by a first-rate troupe of committed character actors, should go a considerable way towards a positive reassessment of the work, which -- running a pressure-cooker 85 minutes -- is truly Miller's most harrowing theater piece.

Village Voice B
(Michael Feingold) Reviewers puzzlingly undervalued it in 1964, despite the memorably taut stillness of Harold Clurman's original production, and it holds up handsomely today, though director Scott Alan Evans gets blurry results, inexplicably rushing his actors through pivotal moments. Still, Koenig makes a forceful impression, as does Christopher Burns, playing assimilation's intellectual spokesman (a Vienna-trained French shrink).

NYPost B
(Frank Scheck) There's a haunting Beckettian quality to the piece, now getting an excellent production by The Actors Company Theatre, that compensates for its more pedantic elements... Unfortunately, the play's power is reduced by the too-obvious hand of the author. The 10 prospective victims have the sort of representative range seen in bad war films: there's a Gypsy, an elderly Jew, a doctor, an actor, a blue-collar worker, a little boy . . . even an Austrian prince... Director Scott Alan Evans has elicited finely nuanced performances from the 15-actor ensemble, and his staging features many haunting touches.

The New Yorker C-
(Unsigned) As is typical of minor Miller, texture and true psychology are sacrificed in the name of rhetoric, and the end results, despite the affecting historical context, are transparently didactic and, sadly, lifeless. The able cast tries its hardest and proof of Miller’s genius is scattered throughout the writing, but the work feels like no more than an alluring museum piece.

CU A 13; LSA A 13; NYTR A 13 TONY A- 12; BS A- 12; NYT A- 12; TM B+ 11; OOO B+ 11; NYP B 10; VV B 10; TNY C- 6; TOTAL: 113/8=11.18 (B+)

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