I had read ABOUT Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy but never actually read or seen the play before when I went last night to see director Michael Wilson's production of it at the Signature Theatre Company.
Much like the Signature's production of Leslie Lee's The First Breeze of Summer, this show reminded me of how impoverished the contemporary American stage has become. It seems impossible that anyone today would write a piece like Incident at Vichy and have the slightest hope it would ever be produced.
This production has an all-male cast of 17. That's right--17! And all men! Not only that, some of those men double at the end, as Miller throws in a few extra characters right at the last moment. A script like that would find a home nowhere today in a theater's literary office (other than in the recycling bin).
Fortunately, because Incident at Vichy has Arthur Miller's name attached to it, the signature has revived the play. There is one set, and the action is relentless for about 90 minutes. During that time, Miller barrages us with questions about what it means to be a decent human being. The Vichy in question is the capital of the Nazi's puppet government in the southern half of France during World War II, so being a decent human being is becoming increasingly complicated.
A group of rounded up prisoners wait. One by one they are called into a room to be examined. Some of them are released. Most are not. Trains are rolling off to camps in the east, and rumors about those camps are spreading. In the midst of all this, the aristocratic Von Berg (played wonderfully by Richard Thomas) finds himself mistakenly taken into custody. A Catholic Austrian from one of the oldest families in Europe, Von Berg is almost certainly going to be set free. But what will his freedom mean when others are whisked away for no reason?
Miller gives us an interesting moral dilemma, but no easy answers. Like in The Crucible, he shows that sacrifice might not even have practical value. The final moments of the play make us wonder if any action an individual took in that situation could make a difference in the world. In the end, though, what is important is not changing the world, but staying true to ourselves. By refusing to go along with barbarities, individuals save their souls, even if they can save no one else.
The play is running through December 13th. For more information, go here:
Incident at Vichy