SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va., July 18, 2012 – It’s an old story by now. But, perhaps because many have forgotten it, it likely bears repeating today. We’re talking about the daring capture, by Israeli operatives, of elusive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (1906-1962) in Argentina, as well as the CATF production of Evan M. Wiener’s nearly new espionage drama, Captors, which deals with aspects of the hair-raising inside story.
The 1961 Eichmann affair, and Eichmann’s subsequent trial in Israel were early demonstrations, if any were needed, that modern Israel, then still a fledgling country, was determined to right the wrongs of the past and endure as a nation. Perhaps that’s why playwright Wiener has chosen to revive this story as the core of his new drama, since it would appear that many have as yet failed to see why the Israelis chose to re-establish their nation.
Based on first-hand material initially appearing in the book Eichmann in My Hands—authored by one of the Argentinian operation’s principals, Peter Z. Malkin with Harry Stein—Captors is precisely centered on the operation that discovered, captured, and smuggled to Israel a key Nazi Holocaust figure who deftly eluded discovery for roughly the fifteen years following the end of the Second World War.
Tense, edgy, and full of treachery—just like the original true-life story—Wiener’s play is part espionage thriller, part character study. Eichmann is captured during a daring late night maneuver by the Israeli agents. But that’s just the beginning of their troubles.
Eichmann, although stunned and fearful, is initially defiant and uncooperative. The Israeli agents aren’t always of one mind themselves, often dividing along generational lines as the somewhat older 1948 Israeli vets clash with the younger, less rigid Malkin. And the entire team must contend with the delicate and perhaps fatal issue of smuggling Eichmann out of Argentina without getting themselves killed or causing an international incident.
The play veers from one crisis to another, occurring within a frame-tale wherein a much older but still prickly Malkin (Joey Collins) tries to relate the particulars of his story to a reporter.
As directed by Ed Herendeen, the CATF production of Captors moves at an almost breathtaking pace, just like a good spy film. Physically and visually arresting, Wiener’s play itself pulses with urgency, deftly handles the art and occasional science of good spycraft, and works hard on delving into the characters and their motivations.
But it’s this last part where Captors still seems to be in need of some revision. While the character of Eichmann (Philip Goodwin) is mostly realized, Wiener’s treatment of his other characters, including Malkin, Uzi (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), Hans (Joseph Tisa), and Cohn (John P. Keller) seems somehow superficial. All are character types, certainly. And yet none of them ever quite seem to achieve full humanity. Perhaps this is the nature of veteran spies, never allowing anyone to fully understand them.
But in a dramatic situation, particularly in our own times, audiences demand characters with whom they can empathize and perhaps identify with. Captors doesn’t quite seem to achieve this, in spite of the excellence of its cast members who ultimately have to work with the dialogue they’ve been given.
For this reason, it’s a little difficult to determine the playwright’s ultimate goal. Is it to revive a key moment in modern history? If so, it certainly succeeds in doing that. It is to demonstrate that justice, if doggedly pursued, will prevail in the end? If that’s the case, score another point for Captors. But if the play’s goal(s) also include(s) providing deeper insight into the characters of the pursuers and the pursued, the script only succeeds in giving us a full sketch of the cold, efficient, eerily elegant, robotic mind and heart of Eichmann, the ruthless automaton that did his best to help his Führer “purify” the Aryan race.
In film as well as on stage and on TV for that matter, we, as the audience, tend to be fascinated not with the heroes of a story, but with the motivations of the black-hearted villains. So perhaps Wiener’s choices are wise ones from a dramatic point of view.
Yet Captors, in its present form, remains something of an enigma to this reviewer. It’s exciting, compelling, and interesting to relive a key but almost-forgotten piece of history and espionage. But at the final curtain of Captors, we still don’t really understand in our hearts why a seemingly rag-tag band of Israeli agents did what they did, even though they ultimately succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. The wider parameters of a feature film treatment might be the most interesting way to resolve this issue.
Rating: ** ½ (Two and one-half stars.)
CATF plays run through July 29, 2012. For tickets and information, visit the CATF website.
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