Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The authors wrote the play based on their own experiences as prisoners of war in the real Stalag 17B in Austria: apparently, they began making notes during their captivity. While Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote a 1953 film adaptation that won an Academy Award for William Holden, that version is more comic and less intense in general than the original play.
On Anndi Daleske's expansive barracks set, American POWs huddle and spend each day coping with boredom and the suspicion that one of them is a traitor. Horrific things happenthe Nazi guards always foil escape attempts; the camp staff gives fresh blankets to the inmates to impress a Red Cross observer (James Svatko) but immediately takes them away after his visit, even though it's Decemberbut the forced camaraderie also causes the men to lash out at each other.
Tony Bullock brings a hard-bitten dignity to the standout role of Sefton (Holden's character in the movie), a sardonic malcontent whom the others suspect most strongly of passing information to the Nazis. Other noteworthy performances are Donald L. Osborne as wisecracking Harry Shapiro; Tom Eisman as young, awkward Herb Gordon; and Hans Dettmar as Corporal Shultz, the external focus of the men's anger and frustration. The entire cast has its moments providing surprise and enlightenment: David Olmsted holds the audience's attention in his small role as the brain-damaged Horney, who can focus only when he plays the recorder.
The naturalistic setting extends beyond Daleske's wooden bunks and rough plank walls to the dusty-looking lighting designed by Cheryl Ann Gnerlich, Ian Armstrong's sound design of well-chosen wartime songs, and even the evocative property design by Ceci Albert.
American Century Theater