by Lynn on May 27, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Alan Dilworth
Set and lighting by Lorenzo Savoini
Costumes by Gillian Gallow
Sound by Thomas Ryder Payne
Selected cast: Kawa Ada
Kevin Bundy
Meegwun Fairbrother
Peter Fernandes
Gordon Hecht
Stuart Hughes
John Jarvis
Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster
Diego Matamoros
Alex Poch-Goldin
Brendan Wall
William Webster.

Arthur Miller’s play about the power of fear, rumour and uncertainty packs a wallop of emotion in this gripping, butt-tightening production.

The Story. We are in Vichy, France in 1942. Nine men have been summoned by the authorities and they don’t know why. They wait impatiently for the various French and German soldiers to summon them to be interrogated behind closed doors.

The men vary in ethnicity, nationality, religion and social strata. Lebeau is a painter who is anxious, nervous and on edge at the uncertainty as to why they are there. Bayard is an electrician, thoughtful but concerned. He reasons out every argument. Leduc is a matter-of-fact doctor, perceptive of the world. Von Berg is an Austrian Prince, privileged, embarrassed by it. Marchand is a successful businessman who seems unconcerned for the most part except he’s anxious to get out of there for an appointment. Monceau is an actor; he too is reasoned about what is happening but concerned. There are three unnamed men: a boy who is mainly silent, a Gypsy who is very nervous about the summons and a Waiter who tries to find comfort in the fact that he knows one of the soldiers doing the interrogation. They are called in one by one to be questioned.

The Production. Director Alan Dilworth begins the production in darkness when the sound of a speeding train blasts across the stage; the sound of the train whistle pierces the air. The men sit on a bench waiting to be called. Other men are brought in so they are tightly packed on that bench.

They imagine, theorize and guess why they are there. Initially none is more vocal than Lebeau, a beautifully fidgety, excitable Peter Fernandes. Is it simply to check that their papers are legitimate? Is it to tell if they are Jewish? What will happen? They are frightened by rumours about work camps that really aren’t work camps. Monceau, a calm convincing Kawa Ada, can’t believe that a people who could love art as the Germans do could consider torturing people. There are laws that protect.

The men try to cope with something they cannot control. The audience has the benefit of hindsight and knows the truth about those rumours. They also know the metaphor of a racing train in the darkness, its whistle piercing the night. Being packed tightly on that bench can be a metaphor for a train going to a concentration camp.

Slowly, gradually Dilworth builds tension out of anxiety. Most of the men sit on that bench, some squirming in hopes of relief for their fear. One or two get up to walk around but that’s it. One by one the men are summoned. Two return from the interrogation, most do not.

The cast is superb headed by Diego Matamoros as Von Berg, an Austrian prince and Stuart Hughes as Leduc. Matamoros’s Von Berg is aristocratic, courtly, reasoned, guilt-ridden and holds out for hope. As Leduc, Hughes tries to contain his anxiety. He is determined to escape but knows it might be futile. There is not one weak link in this stunning production.

Alan Dilworth has directed a gripping, heart-thumping, butt-tightening. production. Dilworth shines a laser beam of light on Arthur Miller’s taut play full of moral and ethical dilemmas and how people react to them, given the situation. With every revelation we watch with ever-increasing tension, from jaw to fist on down. Our hindsight only adds to the emotional weight of the play.

Comment. Arthur Miller wrote this Incident at Vichy in 1964. He wrote it to show how the Holocaust was possible—not only to target and murder 6 million Jews, but to target and murder Gypsies, politicals, homosexuals, those with mental and physical deformities–and he did it by putting several men of different backgrounds packed tightly on a bench, waiting. The uncertainty breeds rumour, which breeds anxiety, which breeds fear and submission. This being Arthur Miller there are questions of moral consequence. Would you betray a stranger to save yourself? Would you help a stranger with a dangerous request? Would you sacrifice yourself to save a friend? Can people act humanely in times of war?

Incident At Vichy has resonance today. Lots to think about. See it. It’s important.

Presented by Soulpepper Theatre Company

Opened: May 26, 2016.
Closes: June 23, 2016.
Cast: 19 men
Running Time: 90 minutes.


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