Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy is set in a Nazi detention centre in Vichy France, where a group of prisoners are being held. (photo from Theatre in the Raw)
Theatre in the Raw is bringing Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy to the Studio 16 stage April 11-22.
The play was chosen and recommended to the theatre’s board of directors in 2017, said Jay Hamburger, artistic director of Theatre in the Raw and director of the theatre’s production of Incident at Vichy. “It had been a piece that had been suggested previously as well,” he said. “But, with the recent political developments in the U.S. as well as worldwide, I felt that, as a theatrical piece, it spoke closely to issues today perhaps even more so than when it was written in the 1960s, and these events were behind the popular consciousness in some way.”
In Incident at Vichy, Miller – whose most popular plays include Death of a Salesman, The Crucible and A View from the Bridge – explores our moral responsibility to act in the face of intolerance and hate. The one-act play, which was first performed in 1964, is set in a Nazi detention centre in Vichy France, where a group of prisoners are being held. “Their unease, fear and confusion is stirred up as they contemplate what may divide or unite them. And what fate awaits them,” reads the press material.
Panel discussions will follow each performance and explore the question, Can it happen here?
“That is the overall and main question placed before the audience as well as to ourselves,” said Hamburger. “Can fascism, or a wave of totalitarian, racially dividing politics take place in Canada? We see fragments of such distressing political and socially oriented movements happening worldwide. Even in the U.S., so close to Canada, there are semblances of divide and conquer. Sadly, it seems to come from the current administration in Washington, D.C. This is cause for real concern.
“Now more than ever this may be the time to warn people that eternal vigilance is key to the well-being of our daily lives, especially given the rise of violent hate crimes against Jews, Muslims, South Asian and First Nations communities, even in Canada…. The play finds a way to touch on economic and class concerns related to the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. It notes that certain people are at an insurmountable disadvantage in seeking ways to survive. Certain characters in the play point out the way prejudices are manufactured and fomented, often condemning people because of misconceived notions concerning races of people, ethnicities or religions.”
Incident at Vichy doesn’t only examine how genocide can happen, however, but what people could do to prevent it.
“Each character in the play has their own experience and background in relation to being interrogated for being Jewish or perhaps seen as an ‘undesirable’ in some way,” explained Hamburger. “The play is basically a dramatized account of events that took place in 1942 in the unoccupied ‘free zone’ of Vichy France,” he said, and it presents many of the attitudes that “people had who weren’t quite ready to accept the extent of what was happening around them until it is completely undeniable – and too late.
“It also includes as an important aspect the perspectives of characters who are non-Jewish Germans, and Austrians as well,” he added. “It implores members of the society to not be complacent in the face of governments and demagogues that wish to grab power by lying and oppressing the large swaths of society.
“A question and statement is placed forward within the play: who is responsible for such horrendous acts of cruelty leading to genocide? At what point must one consider themselves also responsible? The play suggests it is for all in society to give a damn or have a sense of responsibility to such terrible events. There is an important act of human kindness in the play, but I won’t give away the ending here. But, obviously, Miller is writing about shattering events, with shreds of hope that a holocaustal deluge will not repeat itself, that such human massacres will not happen again.”
Audiences should come away from Incident at Vichy with some answers, but perhaps as many questions about the nature of evil, how we perceive it and deal with it.
“I think the play is trying to answer the question, How did things get so far out of hand without people rising up and stopping the madness?” said Hamburger. “The play tries to answer that question, even though you get the impression of how relentless the evil and suffering was once certain powers were in control and the momentum of a horrific madness got going…. I think the play insists that ordinary people are instrumental in realizing evil actions, without necessarily wanting to see the bigger picture themselves. Thus, a vigilant eye is necessary on governments and draconian racial laws implemented upon a citizenry. Such policies must be watched, debated and fought against in a fair and free manner without fear of punishment or reprisal.”
Theatre in the Raw’s mission statement is on their website. Part of it is to be “risk-takers, willing to give exposure to voices seldom heard, striving for artistic excellence, in the presentation of unusual, awakening and exchanging theatre.”
“We are an independent grassroots theatre that has been in production and functioning for 24 years, residing on the Eastside of Vancouver,” said Hamburger. “We have produced comedies, tragedies, radio play works, original one-acts and full-length mainstage plays, as well as original and revived musicals of quality and enjoyment. Our process is to take the art of theatre and performance seriously and to present it first on a local level to Vancouver audiences and then beyond.”
The audition process for Incident at Vichy started seriously in early January and continued to the end of February.
“We saw dozens of actors (actually over 50 for weeks on end) that also included an extensive call-back set of days,” said Hamburger. “A few actors were called in to audition because I attended the unified general auditions that the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance provides for theatre company members in the province. That proves an invaluable resource for those involved in the theatre arts.”
Rehearsals started at the end of February and will continue until the opening of the play on April 11 at Studio 16, which is housed in La Maison de la francophonie de Vancouver. “We are meeting three to four times a week, as well as individual meetings and sessions with each of the 15 actors cast in the show,” said Hamburger.
Incident at Vichy features some longtime Theatre in the Raw company members, he said, naming Roger Howie, Jacques Lalonde, David Stephens, zi paris, Brian Leslie, Stanley Fraser, Michael Kruse-Dahl and Ralston Harris. Hamburger is also part of the cast, as are Rob Monk, Julie Merrick, Daniela Herrera Ruiz, Laen Avraham Hershler, Giuseppe Bevilacqua and Simon Challenger, with Amanda Parafina as stage manager.
“We are fortunate to have such a dedicated and hardworking group of able thespians on the boards for the April run of the show Incident at Vichy,” said Hamburger, adding that fellow Jewish community member Cassandra Freeman also has been helpful.
“Cassandra has been an invaluable advisor and advocate for a number of years with Theatre in the Raw,” he said. “She has been a coordinator with the Tuesday night Vancouver Actor’s Drop-In sessions. We have cast at times from those evening sessions for some of our shows. She is a creative writer and has made the effort to report about Theatre in the Raw in a column or two she does for the press.”
Tickets for Incident at Vichy are $25/$22 and can be purchased from theatreintheraw.ca or 604-708-5448.
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In his interview with the Jewish Independent, Jay Hamburger, artistic director of Theatre in the Raw and director of the theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy, said, “A question and statement is placed forward within the play: who is responsible for such horrendous acts of cruelty leading to genocide? At what point must one consider themselves also responsible? … There is an important act of human kindness in the play, but … Miller is writing about shattering events, with shreds of hope that a holocaustal deluge will not repeat itself, that such human massacres will not happen again.”
Hamburger added, “The sentiment reminds and brings forth four related historical quotes that speak directly to significant parts of the play”:
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if, through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” – Sophie Scholl, a member of the anti-Nazi White Rose group, who was executed for treason by the Nazis
“Of course, the terrible things I heard from the Nuremberg Trials, about the six million Jews and the people from other races who were killed, were facts that shocked me deeply. I was satisfied that I wasn’t personally to blame and that I hadn’t known about those things. I wasn’t aware of the extent. But, one day, I went past the memorial plaque which had been put up for Sophie Scholl in Franz Josef Strasse, and I saw that she was born the same year as me, and she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. And at that moment I actually sensed that it was no excuse to be young, and that it would have been possible to find things out.” – Traudl Junge, one of Adolf Hitler’s secretaries
“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago!” – Anne Frank
“I’ve found that there is always some beauty left – in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you. Look at these things, then you find yourself again, and God, and then you regain your balance. A person who’s happy will make others happy; a person who has courage and faith will never die in misery!” – Anne Frank