THE TRIALS OF JOHN DEMJANJUK by Jonathan Garfinkel, directed by Jen Herszman Capraru, with Christine Brubaker, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Dov Mickelson, Frank Moore, Michael Rubenfeld and Clinton Walker. Presented by Theatre Asylum and Hatch at Harbourfront Centre's Studio Theatre. March 2-7. Rating: NNN
can you sing and joke about the nature of evil? That's what Theatre Asylum attempts with Jonathan Garfinkel 's The Trials Of John Demjanjuk , about the Ukrainian-born naturalized American charged with being Ivan the Terrible, who sent multitudes to their deaths at Treblinka. Set in America and Israel, where Demjanjuk was sent for a war-crimes trial, the show follows the various convolutions of his history and case.
It's a fascinating idea to stage the tale as a Brechtian cabaret-cum-circus, with direct audience address and ironic songs whose sometimes-sweet melodies (by Christine Brubaker and Allen Cole ) contrast with their unsettling content. Brubaker as the red-garbed, sardonic accordionist/MC is right on target.
The performers all get moments to shine. Frank Moore 's deep-voiced Demjanjuk, who swears he was a POW rather than a torturer, has an intentional cool blandness that might hold unrevealed depths, even though his neighbours swear his pirogies are absolutely the best.
Michael Rubenfeld as the impassioned prosecutor and Dov Mickelson as the self-publicizing defence attorney are also impressive, especially in a duelling lawyers' duet with touches of the hora, and Clinton Walker grabs audience attention as the show's co-host and a Holocaust survivor.
Garfinkel makes the leather-clad Ivan ( Dmitry Chepovetsky ) a separate character who coaches Demjanjuk for his court appearances, goading him along, but the playwright only occasionally allows him a disturbing quality that would make the role more effective.
That lack of a chilling undertone, both in the writing and in Jen Herszman Capraru 's direction, dissipates some of the play's potential. It takes a powerful look at whether this trial was about vengeance or justice, but the Demjanjuk/Ivan diptych doesn't grip or shake us as it might.