The American Century Theater (TACT) has offered the DC Metro theatergoer a chance to see a classic rarely produced play, Abby Mann’s Judgment at Nuremberg, and they have succeeded in presenting a transformative experience to savor. TACT has produced vintage, classic fare for quite some time and under the Artistic Direction of Jack Marshall, they have continued their tradition of producing superior versions of often-neglected plays.
Courtroom Dramas can often be torturously plodding and turgid, but under the tightly controlled Direction of veteran stage director Joe Banno, this production moves along with compression and perfect pacing. Banno propels a terrific ensemble cast (with two absolutely sublime performances) with technical elements all working together organically-thus, obtaining a very cohesive effect. This Judgment at Nuremberg has, indeed, had a convoluted history from a critically successful teleplay on the old Playhouse 90 television venue (1959) to the successful 1961 Stanley Kramer film to the final realization of an adaptation for Broadway in 2001.
Banno has the task of making sure that the universal, yet often disparate themes of Abby Mann’s trenchant writing, are vividly conveyed to today’s audience; thus relaying of themes is helped in no small measure thanks to the superbly executed Set Design by Patrick Lord. The production is presented in a very interactive style, almost completely in-the-round with the audience members seated on both sides of the proceedings as if they were members of the jury. I could not help feeling complicit in the courtroom drama, as I was seated in such close proximity to the actors. The natural grey colors of the tribunal judge’s stand at one end and the accused war criminals’ dock at the other end-with a large screen (looming from behind) portraying actual war crimes footage from the concentration camps. Projections Design, also by Patrick Lord, and Projections Research by Shayne Weyker, aided immeasurably to the superlative scenic design.
The tone that Banno utilizes is one of direct earnestness and moral authority and this approach befits this play with its themes of collective versus individual guilt, individual conscience versus authoritarian rule and nationalism versus international globalization. With the unceasing pervasiveness of genocide in such places as Cambodia and Rwanda, the themes presented here have never been more relevant. The themes inherent in Mann’s writing are served all the more by the usual, almost slavish, devotion and respect for each and every line of text that the playwright delivers -this attention to the text has always been a hallmark of TACT and Director Banno and his actors deliver every utterance with tremendous respect for the source material.
The acting by the large and talented cast is uniformly excellent and above the norm. Of particular interest is the sturdy performance of Mary Beth Luckenbaugh as Maria Wallner, the sensitive anguish of Christopher Henley as Rudolph Peterson, Karin Rosnizeck’s complex portrayal of Frau Bertholt, Steve Lebens’ audacious turn as Oscar Rolfe, and Bruce Alan Rauscher’s fierce, anger-filled portrayal of Colonel Lawson. An interesting and uniquely effective theatrical device is the silent chorus of Holocaust “ghosts” from the past, entering and exiting the stage space and often just standing frozen -as if suspended in time-to give silent witness to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Two absolute stunning performances are given by Craig Miller as the non-pretentious American character, Judge Haywood and by Michael Replogle as the accused Ernst Janning. Miller has a disarming, down-to-earth quality that continually makes one wonder what he will say next; in scenes that could be purely reactionary, he pauses in a very spontaneous manner and totally captures one’s attention by his earthy style of acting. Replogle stands out in all his scenes but is spellbinding in the scene where he expresses contrition for the crimes he has committed; a fluid panoply of subtle facial expressions flicker across his face as his character attempts to expunge his guilt and, concurrently, express remorse.
Lighting Design by Marc Allan Wright is startlingly, appropriately jarring in effect and almost-quixotic at times. Most effective is the utilization of successive blackouts that often shifted into a fully-lit courtroom tableau. Costume Design by Rip Claassen was appropriate to the era-very natural and effective earth colors of brown, tan and grey were worn by the actors.
The American Century Theater should be commended for tackling this under-appreciated gem of a play and they deliver a superb and powerful production that needs to be seen.
Running Time: Two hours, with one fifteen-minute intermission.
Judgment at Nuremberg plays through June 28, 2014 at The American Century Theater performing at The Gunston Arts Center, Theatre II-2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 998-4555, or purchase them online.
‘Magic Time!’ ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ at The American Century Theater by John Stoltenberg.
Listen to a podcast with Jack Marshall and members of the cast of Judgment at Nuremberg: Steve Lebens, Karin Rosnizeck, and Bruce Alan Rauscher.