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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 29, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 30
Intelligent Vitriol anchored by strong performances
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Intelligent Vitriol anchored by strong performances

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Vitriol
July 23
Odd Duck Studio


During the rise of Hitler's National Socialist Party, there were newspapers and journals that tried to shine the light on his party's wrongdoing and the menace that it presented to the German people. One such newspaper was the Munich Post, though records of those articles from 1923 to '33 (when Hitler's party took power) are hard to find. The Nazis tried to erase any history of dissent.

The men of the Munich Post have become memorialized in the new play Vitriol, written by young playwright Jacob Sherman and produced by his company, Handwritten Productions. The play is full of ideas which are very difficult to write about, but Sherman and crew have done an excellent job in making this historic struggle come alive.

Sherman reports that the play has been in development for four years, and his ardent desire is that more people will know of the existence and bravery of four particular newsmen: Martin Gruber (played here by David S. Klein), Erhard Auer (Ryan Spickard), Edmund Goldschagg (Stephen Scheide), and Julius Zerfass (Jeremy Thompson). Archives exist of their newspaper, but it's all in German and so far untranslated.

With the help of a quintet of strong actors, including Brenan Grant, director Tom Dewey helps highlight their disparate personalities, ironic sense of humor, and struggle to get facts out in front of the German people. Each actor gives a polished performance, and while Grant acts as a kind of ensemble by playing multiple small roles, he demonstrates an enormous range of capabilities.

Since Spickard is a veteran fight choreographer, the violence shown onstage is crisp and believable (presumably with his help, although he remains uncredited). While most of the horror is offstage, a few moments onstage heighten the sense of danger for the men who dared to stand up to the physical threats that multiplied as Hitler's support grew stronger.

The story focuses on the insidious ways that those who joined Hitler took power by many illegal, yet unchallenged, deeds. It aspires to demonstrate how fascism takes root. Since this story is about the rise of Hitler and not the era of his most heinous deeds, humor is more present than not, especially within the camaraderie of this group of reporters.

The script is intelligent and mostly action-oriented, even for a talky play. Yet there are a few moments of confusion, mostly due to a choice to show one of the men, Goldschagg, having survived WWII and narrating from the mid-1950s. Many of those monologues work, but there are a few too many, and a few too poetic. Trimming them would give a little more energy to the forward momentum. It's a little too long right now, and tends to repeat a lot that the audience should understand quite well.

A set by J.H. Welch (mostly well-placed brick walls and a large table and desk) transitions well among scenes for the newspaper, outdoors, and a bar. Costumes by Afton Pilkington are excellently done, easily establishing who is a Nazi. Sound by Kristie Tice is an eclectic medley of appropriate noises and German-era music. Lighting by Emily Leong had some difficulties, particularly at small scene change moments (or there were some errors by the tiny theater's board ops, hard to say).

This is Handwritten Productions' second show, and from the reactions to their first, Troilus and Cressida, and the experience of this one, they are able to produce smart, well-executed theater. If you like to keep companies like this on your radar for the future, bookmark www.handwrittenproductions.org.

Discuss your comments at sgncritic@gmail.com.

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