Originally published on JewishBoston.com.
I will admit up front that I tend to approach “Holocaust art” with a bit of hesitation. The subject so readily lends itself to emotional manipulation, and it seems as though every possible angle has been addressed already. So I am pleased to report that Evan M. Wiener’s new play Captors, receiving its premiere at the Huntington Theatre through December 11 with an eye towards New York, was (if you’ll forgive the pun) captivating.
What sets Captors apart is that it Wiener dares asks questions that will strike many in the audience as unaskable. Based on Peter Z. Malkin & Harry Stein’s memoir Eichmann in My Hands, the play juxtaposes the 1991 reality of retired Israeli Nazi-hunter Malkin (played by Louis Cancelmi) and ghostwriter Stein (here redubbed Cohn and portrayed by Daniel Eric Gold) with the 1960 capture of Adolph Eichmann in Malkin’s memory. Where the play gets into controversial territory is in the juxtaposition.
Eichmann (Michael Cristofer), once captured, knows that his life is essentially over. Rather than protest his innocence or fight for his freedom, he takes up a different campaign: ensuring his legacy. He wants control over how his story is told. In the 1991 scenes, as Malkin and Cohn argue over the details of Malkin’s story, we see that Malkin too is concerned with legacy. And each time Cohn questions the accuracy of Malkin’s memories when they contract something recorded elsewhere, the resonance with Eichmann’s construction of history is strong. To challenge the boundaries of history and memory is a popular pastime for playwrights; to do so in the context of the Holocaust, which has built an industry around the mantra of “Never Forget,” feels transgressive.
Buoyed by strong performances — especially Cristofer whose Eichmann flashes from broken to noble to evil in the blink of an eye — the transgression of the play draws the audience in. (A couple of one-liners from the Mossad agents lamenting the role of Israel in the world have already enchanted those in the audience who are most likely to be appalled by the comparison of the Nazi’s memories with those of the Nazi hunter.) Beowulf Boritt’s set provides a simple playing space while enhancing the atmosphere through the use of mirrors, reminding us that different perspectives on memory produce different reflections. And despite Captors being a play of ideas, director Peter DuBois keeps the action moving so the plot never feels secondary.
Still, when you discuss the play after the performance ends, the events of the story will surely take a back seat to what it all means. And make no mistake, this is a play you’re going to want to discuss once it’s finished. The Huntington has anticipated this, providing post-show discussion forums after most performances.
Captors, now playing at the Huntington Theatre Company’s BU Theatre through December 11. Tickets start at $25 with discounts available for students, seniors, military, and young adults. For tickets and information, visit huntingtontheatre.org or call 617-266-0800. Audio-Described Performance Thurs., 12/8, 10am and Sat., 12/10 at 2p
Photo credit: Louis Cancelmi and Michael Cristofer in Evan M. Wiener’s CAPTORS. Photo: T. Charles Erickson