No one escapes responsibility for the rise of Nazism in Ferdinand Bruckner's 1928 play The Criminals, but not for the usual reasons. Most are implicated simply by being fallible human beings, caught by or thrust into circumstances they cannot control, and they make life decisions with unanticipated implications, both good and bad. That's a lot for one play to handle, and some of it is heavy-handed. But it makes a lot of still-valid points, and audience members who didn't see themselves in one of the characters on the stage were wearing blinders.
Both the large stage and the second level of the Present Company Theatorium were used by director Michael Kimmel in a combination of naturalistic and expressionistic staging, beginning with the cast frozen in place in the many playing areas, as one voice humming "Deutschland über Alles" was joined by another, then another, and then sung out by the full-voiced cast. This showed theatrically what would become apparent -- that there was no "one" Germany, and belief in (and resistance to) this ideal would result in a lot of people being crushed.
Some of the stories in this group of people are heartbreaking -- the student (Kevin Gunning) and his wife (Laura Bucher) who have agreed to give up their soon-to-be-born child to the childless cook (Ryanna Gamble), who supplies them with the food they can't afford, and uses her faked pregnancy to keep her boyfriend hooked. Philosophical questions abound, from whether it is ethical to join in the socialist activities (and under what circumstances) to whether the murder of a traitor is really murder. Is breaking the law in defense of human dignity really a crime? A budding young Nazi (the dynamic Eric Walton) is burdened with lots of exposition about some of this, but the strong performances and fluid direction (characters move into a scene where actors from a previous scene are still frozen in place) kept interest high. And there's lots of sex too, though little titillation. With money and food scarce, sex of course is a bargaining chip, and each character's tipping point becomes a mark of character (or lack thereof).
Push Productions mounted a vibrant production, with a cast that played to character, not type, with no weak links. They were beautifully dressed to period (costumes designed by Katarzyna Schoewe), and lit (lighting designed by Andy Hill) in a way that reflected the director's vision -- sometimes severely under-lit, or merely lit by a spot, which contributed to the sense of doom and impending gloom. With so many scenes set in different locations, suggestion rather than extravagance was called for, and what Kerry Chipman's design provided.
The play was not devoid of humor -- one funny touch was a maid who was offhandedly recommended to read Freud, and she later showed up, well- (if flashily) dressed and clearly in charge of her own destiny. Sex, we are reminded, is power -- and power is sexy. Sometimes the plot was as ripe as a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama -- particularly in a courtroom scene - but Sirk was a refugee from this very political situation. Still the questions and recriminations keep nagging -- if nobody finds out about something, is it a crime? "Intellectuals are criminals who avoid everyday responsibilities," the student berates -- but even allowing for his self-loathing, he's not quite right. If criminals are who's responsible, then everyone is a criminal. Blunt, perhaps, but unassailable.
Also with Cindy Eisemann, Colleen Cosgrove, Tom Escovar, Brian Reilly, Tilke Hill, Johnny Sparks, Andrea Judge, Paul Young, Frank Proudfoot, Jason Moreland, Bill Fairbairn, Brian Normant, Hannah Alt.