The Extermination Machine, written and directed by Michael Wright and presented by SeeNoSun OnStage, at its core has the makings of a good, if not chilling, historical drama. It depicts the 1960-1961 interrogation of Adolf Eichmann in an Israeli prison after the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) removes him from Buenos Aires, Argentina where he has been living under a false name for over a decade. Implicated in heavily participating in, if not leading the planning and implementation of, Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ to exterminate Jews and other enemies of the Third Reich regime, he is tasked with defending and explaining his involvement to an Israeli police captain, Avner Less, who had his own loss in the Holocaust. Unfortunately, what could have been a chilling drama providing insight into the motivations and intent of humans who do things that are, to most of the global population, unconscionable, becomes an exercise in beating the audience over the head with one single point.
Wright has chosen to use a realistic interrogation proceeding as the platform to tell Eichmann’s story. Unfortunately in doing so, he presents a story which mostly lacks a dramatic arc though it is certainly well-researched. As the gruesome details of the Holocaust are recalled, we learn (over and over again) that Eichmann rationalizes what he did (or, sometimes in his case, what he feels he did not do) as a person who is simply one element of an expansive bureaucratic machine who must, quite simply, follow all orders given. Given this division of labor, he claims (over and over) that he does not have blood on his hands though he did facilitate the deportation of many, many Jews. This kind of repetitive discussion may be very realistic for a multi-day interrogation, but, at least in the way it’s directed/presented here, it’s certainly not very theatrical – until the final moments.
That said, the two-member cast deserves credit for making the most of the material it has been given. Although James Radack (Captain Avner Lees) is slightly more successful than Kim Curtis (Adolf Eichmann) in taking on his role, it is acknowledged that Curtis may have the more challenging task. Radack demonstrates appropriately complex emotions as he grapples with the requirement to interrogate a very chilling individual even has he still deals with the loss of a family member in the Holocaust. He remains both authoritative in his role as a security official while he is understandably sickened by the information that’s being discussed. Curtis is appropriately nonchalant as prisoner Eichmann and shows some solid emotional range in the final moments of the play. That said, he does not maintain a consistent accent and his speaking approach is somewhat stilted at times (perhaps as if he is simply trying to recite dialogue). Overall, the actors deserve kudos for professionally presenting a dialogue-intensive play focused on difficult, if not gruesome, subject matter.
The solid design elements set the mood for the play and do not unnecessarily detract from the dialogue. The sound design (no credit given) of trains, screams, and whistles remind the audience of the Holocaust (even if they are a bit repetitive), and the lighting (Matt Vossekuil) is industrial and dim and very much like what one would fine in a prison. The set design (no credit given) encompasses basic tables, file boxes, and chairs, which is also appropriate for an interrogation room in a prison.
Overall, I’d recommend this play to those who are interested in an academic discussion of the Third Reich, but it may not be suitable for those looking for an intense theatrical experience.
Running Time: Nearly 90 minutes.
Read this Fringe Preview for more information on the play and to purchase tickets.