After two swift hosannas—rapturous reviews from smaller sites—Variety and The Washington Post come in with more measured, semi-appreciative, semi-critical assessments of our show. Well enough written and well enough reasoned, both reviews suggest that rich characterizations were sacrificed to the cause of telling a more meticulous, broad historical sweep. The word “skeletal” appears—or seems to appear–in both Paul Harris’ and Peter Marks’ reviews in relation to some of the supporting characters. There is an impressive regard for the production, its integrity, direction, and certainly the performance of Paul Morella in the role of Kurt Gerstein. But there’s also a feeling that Kurt is “a minor tragic hero” who doesn’t evince the heroic stature that Oskar Schindler does – Gerstein simply has a guilty conscience and is moved to try and alert a half dozen important leaders – all to little avail.
Marks’ disappointment in Gerstein’s character – that he didn’t actually do more or have more of an effect on the lives of others – is a comment I’ve heard from a few others in the audience, including one of our Theater J Council members. So I don’t think our critic is being particularly capricious here. He’s stating a fact – Gerstein didn’t save any Jews. Gerstein didn’t try to shoot the Fuhrer. Gerstein gave testimony, fought with God, and his soul, but it may not have amounted to much given that the war was prosecuted anyway and his guilty conscience was only “so much breath” (as the play itself says, in regard to another matter).
I’ve committed myself in earlier entries here (“Blogs and Bad Reviews”) not to carp with critics – it’s poor form; it never accrues good news or good energy – and the measure of hypocrisy is always there for the theater artist who trumpets the rave review but denigrates the same critic when the assessment is less than a swoon. A swoon might have been nice. This production certainly has found audience members for whom the experience is revelatory, answering questions about Nazi complicity and how the best and the brightest and even the most God-fearing and conscientious could lose their way within the belly of the Reich. There are people who want to move this show to New York. keep reading
There are people who marvel at Tom Keneally’s sense of timing, telling the story of a good officer charged with fighting a terrible war at a moment when our own country is asking good officers to fight battles that are, in the officers’ own assessments, “utterly pointless.” There are many, many strong points to be made about this production that are missing in the Marks and the Harris reviews. And yet, they’re entitled. Let them be less than blown away.
It’s been a holy and noble labor for us and we’ve created a swift and efficient and devastating work with an epic sweep, an amazing sense of intimacy, a fine gradation meter for measuring a man’s mixed moral code; the only half-successful performance of a conscience embattled, torn, tested and tried by fire.
After an evening of splendid cheer at the home of the Australian Ambassador, Dennis Richardson, with 26 friends of the theater, this morning we return to the battlefield of the theater market, hoping we sell tickets, meet budget, and preserve the positive spirit that’s pervaded this process. With a strong inner core, I think our wonderful ensemble and our wonderful theater staff—in concert with a smart and discerning audience—will still deliver for us a successful production, no matter this mixed response.
Tomorrow: Reviews from a whole slew of others.