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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Stalag 17

Also see Susan's reviews of My Name is Ashler Lev and Clybourne Park

Stalag 17
Tony Bullock, Steve Lebens and Jon Townson
Stalag 17 may not be a familiar title to contemporary audiences, but American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, has brought to crackling life Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski's 1951 drama of Americans held in a German prison camp during World War II. Director William Aitken, working with a large (15-member) cast, has created an engrossing yet fast-moving production.

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 happen—the 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 December—but 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
Stalag 17
March 26th April 17th
By Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski
SS Captain: Karl Bittner
Stosh: John Stange
Harry Shapiro: Donald L. Osborne
Price: Jon Townson
Herb Gordon: Tom Eisman
Hoffman (Hoffy): Bill Gordon
Sefton: Tony Bullock
Duke: Gabriel J. Swee
McCarthy, SS Guard: Matthew Meixler
Horney: David Olmsted
Marko: Jay Hardee
Corporal Shultz: Hans Dettmar
Dunbar: James Finley
Reed: Steve Lebens
Geneva Man: James Svatko
Directed by William Aitken
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: www.americancentury.org


Photo: Dennis Deloria


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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