Review: This Incident sparks an important discussion

INCIDENT AT VICHY by Arthur Miller (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs to June 25. $32-$94, rush.


INCIDENT AT VICHY by Arthur Miller (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs to June 25. $32-$94, rush $25, $5 youth. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See listing. Rating: NNN

Arthur Millers Incident At Vichy examines the evil and fear that, some characters argue, is part of our human nature.

In 1942 Vichy, seven men from all walks of life have randomly been rounded up and brought into a holding space for… an interrogation? to check their papers? None of them knows, though some have had their noses measured by the authorities and others fear its because theyre suspected of being, as one says, Peruvian.

Later joined by three other detainees, they enter an office one by one to be questioned by a German major (Oliver Dennis), the complicit French police chief (Brendan Wall) and an nasty racial anthropologist (Kevin Bundy). In this nominally unoccupied zone, some will be released, others wont.

In the hands of thoughtful director Alan Dilworth, what is often a philosophical discussion much of the action takes place on the bench where the men sit sparks with dramatic confrontations and some fine performances.

Several scenes stand out, beginning with that between nervously talkative painter Lebeau (Peter Fernandes) and socialist electrician Bayard (Gordon Hecht). Theres another fine episode involving the optimistic Monceau (Kawa Ada), an actor who cant believe things are so bad: its impossible, he argues, that trains are carrying people to camps and their deaths. Hes contradicted by Leduc (Stuart Hughes), a psychiatrist who points out the depths to which humankind can sink and tells the actor that his heart is already conquered territory.

The most striking of the two-handers involves Leduc, who holds that everyone needs to demonize someone as the other, and Von Berg (Diego Matamoros), a nobleman and cultured idealist who detests the Nazis bad artistic taste and is saddened by his fellow Austrians dedication to Hitler.

Also caught up in the Germans net are a self-impressed businessman (William Webster), a waiter (Alex Poch-Goldin) abandoned by his employer (John Jarvis), a gypsy (Meegwun Fairbrother), a teenaged boy (Courtney Chng Lancaster), and an old orthodox Jew (Robert Nasmith), the latter a wordless character who makes a statement simply by his presence.

In a play where all the detainees try at some point to reassure themselves of their safety and characters regularly turn on each other, its ironic that the most complex figure is the major, an injured military man forced into a job he despises. The fine Dennis plays all the sides of the man, including the anger he turns on the prisoners because he cant find a way out of the role given him, and the moment of sympathy he shows Leduc, a fellow soldier hes faced in battle and whom he knows would welcome the chance of freedom.

But this is world where freedom is defined by chance and birth. Though not all the exchanges are striking and some arguments are repetitious, the play ends with a surprising twist of generosity and a faceoff between two powerful figures, neither of whom will give way to the other. Its a properly thorny conclusion for a complex narrative.

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