Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Judgment At Nuremberg
Midnight Company producer Joe Hanrahan has cast himself as Judge Dan Haywood, the Spencer Tracy role in the 1961 movie. But he gives an honest, genuinely heartwarming performance as an American everyman, rummaging through the ruins of Nuremberg and the aftermath of the Holocaust during a trial of former Nazi judges in 1945-46. He is flanked on the judges' panel by the highly capable actors Jack Corey and Charlie Heuvelman, who thrash out legal issues, usually behind the scenes.
There's a wealth of fine performances on stage, with Chuck Winning and Cassidy Flynn squaring off as the American prosecutor and German defense attorney. Mr. Winning's Colonel Tad Parker initially seems more German than any actual German in the room, strutting into the action, but relaxes soon after. But with that entrance, he also foretells the play's ending note: that America could fall prey to such historical cycles itself. Also in act one, Mr. Flynn demonstrates touching, boyish fealty to his chief client, the brilliant jurist Ernst Janning (here, hawk-like and disdainful Steve Callahan).
The everyday Germans are represented by four characters, including Margarete Bertholt (Rachel Tibbetts), who lost her home to the Allied forces after the war. Her house is now occupied by Judge Haywood, and their relationship is cordial in a way that's also vaguely heartbreaking. Like the other Germans (who were not victims during the war), she has a startling insight into how nationhood superseded personhood in the rise of the Nazis.
Michael B. Perkins and Francesca Ferrari play two of the Nuremberg witnesses, swept up by the Nazis in the 1930s for political crimes. He's Rudolph Peterson, forcibly sterilized by the Nazis for coming from a family of common laborers (and thus seeming to violate the concept of the German Übermensch). Ms. Ferrari plays Maria Wallner, likewise confused by the ferocious pursuit of civilians like her, as enemies of an idealin her case for having "relations" with a Jew in the 1930s. Judge Janning unapologetically calls them "excrement," and Steve Garrett (doing fine work as the fourth "everyday German") also recreates the Nazi's harsh sentiments. They are all stark and unblinking performances.
After a stunning video montage of the concentration camps, perhaps the most unsettling dimension of Judgment at Nuremberg comes near the end, with an appeal for mercy for the German judges, coming from Mark Abels as a senior U.S. Army officer, for political reasons; and from Judge Ives (Mr. Corey), based on legal precedent. In this sense, the ways men choose to blind themselves, out of fear, never really die out. They run right up into our present, just as easily as before all this began.
Judgment at Nuremberg, through April 29, 2018, at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.midnightcompany.com.