×

The Good German

Playwright and novelist David Wiltse is defeated by his daunting subject -- the Holocaust -- in his new play "The Good German." Although there is much fact (probably too much) woven into the play, neither its basic situation nor its characters have the ring of theatrical truth. The play is more a stilted tract than a living piece of theater.

With:
Gretel (Graeti) Vogel - Kathleen McNenny Wilhelm Braun - Victor Slezak Siemi Tauber - Boyd Gaines Karl Vogel - Casey Biggs

Playwright and novelist David Wiltse is defeated by his daunting subject — the Holocaust — in his new play “The Good German.” Although there is much fact (probably too much) woven into the play, neither its basic situation nor its characters have the ring of theatrical truth. The play is more a stilted tract than a living piece of theater.

Wiltse was once stationed in Stuttgart with the U.S. Army, and has also drawn upon “extensive reading” for his play, which is making its world preem at the Westport Country Playhouse. That may be part of the problem, for he has seemingly thrown all of his research into the writing, and subsequently been unable to sort it all out.

Play, which begins in the early days of World War II, takes place in the Southwest German home of Karl and Gretel Vogel. Act one opens with Gretel (Kathleen McNenny) bringing Wilhelm Braun (Victor Slezak) to stay in her home without telling her husband (Casey Biggs) in advance. She introduces Braun as a cousin. He is in fact unrelated to her, a Jewish publisher who is seeking refuge after having lost his wife, child, home and identification papers in an arson fire.

Vogel, a professor and a blunt intellectual bully, is far from happy about giving Braun refuge, but acquiesces to his wife’s pleading. Both he and close family friend Siemi Tauber (Boyd Gaines) are anti-semitic, although they try to rationalize their bigotry in all sorts of slippery ways. They also both profess to loathe Hitler, Tauber calling him an “egomaniacal little runt,” even as Tauber works as a desk clerk in the Nazi war machine.

The play aims to indict the intelligent, well-educated Germans went along with the Nazis unresistingly. Tauber and Vogel also repeatedly raise the question of why the Jews are so “sheeplike” in the face of persecution. But all three of the male characters seem to switch sides regularly in their beliefs and arguments. Human behavior is a mass of inconsistencies of course, but in Wiltse’s hands such inconsistencies are not theatrical virtues.

Nor is his dramaturgy convincing. It is a major misstep to have Gretel killed early on, for instance, since Gretel is a potentially interesting character and McNenny’s performance is the production’s most persuasive.

After Gretel’s death, Braun continues to live with her husband, despite his antagonism, as his servant and cook. After a violent fight, Vogel forces Braun out of the house, but when he creeps back in Vogel does nothing to prevent him. Act two begins on a ludicrously false note with a comic scene that seems to come straight from “The Odd Couple,” with Braun baking cookies for a complaining Vogel. The introduction of a Christmas tree is equally silly.

Eventually, Tauber progresses from desk clerk to Nazi brute, shooting homosexuals and becoming a major overseeing the transportation of Jews to “work camps.” In a wild diatribe against Jews, Tauber attempts to warn Vogel and Braun that he and others know that Braun is Jewish and that Vogel has been sheltering him. The play comes to an abrupt conclusion when Tauber produces a gun.

But it’s not just the conclusion that rings false: The entire play is unsatisfactory, an exercise in overreaching foolhardiness. “The Good German” has neither the intellectual heft nor the dramatic skillfulness to illuminate the morass of moral dilemmas at its heart.

James Naughton’s production is marked by acceptably professional acting, although there’s a prevailing one-dimensional quality about much of it. Hugh Landwehr’s living room setting is aptly dark and Germanic, complete with period fringed lampshades, overstuffed velvet armchairs and sliding pocket doors.

The Good German

Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Conn.; 707 seats; $55 top

Production: A Westport Country Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by David Wiltse. Directed by James Naughton.

Creative: Set, Hugh Landwehr; costumes, David Murin; lighting, Clifton Taylor; sound, Jerry Yager; production manager, Ruth Moe; stage manager, Diane DiVita; fight director, BH Barry. Westport Country Playhouse artistic director, Joanne Woodward. Opened, reviewed June 27, 2003. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast: Gretel (Graeti) Vogel - Kathleen McNenny Wilhelm Braun - Victor Slezak Siemi Tauber - Boyd Gaines Karl Vogel - Casey Biggs

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content