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Wednesday, October 26,2011

Meeting of the (evil) minds

Riverwalk’s ‘Conspiracy’ is a historical horror story

by Mary C. Cusack

As director James W. Houska said in his welcome last
Saturday night, “Conspiracy” is not a show to be enjoyed. It is,
however, an important event in history that people should experience
and talk about, and Riverwalk Theatre’s production provides that
opportunity.


Based on a true event, “Conspiracy” recreates the secret
Wannsee Conference held in Berlin in 1942, at which the “question”
about what to do with the Jews in Europe was answered.  Chaired
by Gen. Reinhard Heydrich (Michael Hays), the meeting brought together
15 major players from various agencies, departments and affiliates of
the Nazi regime to essentially get everyone on the same page — after
which all the pages detailing the meeting were to be destroyed. (One
copy survived.)


Director Houska designed the stage, a wonderfully opulent
room in a mansion overlooking a frozen German lake. Bob Nees designed
the enormous conference table at which the party sits, and its symbolic
shape should be part of any post-show conversation. 


The meeting is coordinated by Heydrich’s right hand man, Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann (Evan Pinsonnault).  Eichmann
orchestrates a meeting of manners, with fine wines and liquors, cigars,
savory appetizers and a buffet lunch, all served at the appropriate
time.


The beauty of the setting and the luxuriousness of the
amenities offer a stark contrast to the absolute barbarism of the
purpose of the meeting itself.  


Emmy winner Loring Mandel’s script does not attempt to
make these characters sympathetic; neither are they all painted as
mustache-twisting evildoers.


Instead, the author has created a complex cast of
characters whose levels of competency and commitment vary as much as
their backgrounds and motivations.  Some
characters are fleshed out more thoroughly, likely based on their
impact on historical events. Even the most minor of these players are
given unique personas, even if the essence of that persona is myopic
incompetence.


Among the cast, four stand out in particular.  The first and most obvious is Hays as Heydrich.  Hays
has the necessary physical presence and authority to pull off this
role. At one point, he seems about this close to using the Force to
crush the throat of a simpering Joseph Buhler (Mark Zussman). 


As Heydrich’s second, Pinsonnault delivers a solid performance as Eichmann.  Pinsonnault
has previously trod the boards of Riverwalk as simpletons in
“Fortinbras” and “Into the Woods.” As Eichmann, Pinsonnault is
efficient and meticulous, obviously ambitious and as cold as the frozen
lake that is ever-present just over his shoulder. 


Sparks fly when Erik Grill raises his voice of relative
reason as legal authority Wilhelm Stuckart. Grill has a commanding
presence, even when going toe-to-toe with Hays. While still as racist
as any of the others, he pushes for a more humane solution that could
be defended using the letter of the law.


Arguably the only sympathetic character is Wilhelm Kritzinger (Jeff Boerger).  The
character could be played as weak or whiny, but Boerger instead imbues
Kritzinger with a nuanced blend of emotions. Kritzinger may be the only
one who recognizes that the war against the Jews is spiraling out of
control, that the decisions being made in that room will spell ruin for
the nation that he loves and that he is in over his head.


With its large cast, “Conspiracy” is a complex story to
follow at first. However, as the predetermined outcome of the meeting
becomes clearer, keeping track of the characters matters less than
witnessing their complacency or commitment to the “Final Solution of
the Jewish question.”




‘Conspiracy’


Riverwalk Theatre


228 Museum Dr., Lansing


7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27; 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30


$14 adults; $12 seniors and students


(517) 482-5700


www.riverwalktheatre.com

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