This year being the centennial of Arthur Miller’s birth, “A View from the Bridge” and “The Crucible” are being revived on Broadway in productions staged by the experimental Belgian director Ivo van Hove. But wouldn’t it make more sense to look at some of Miller’s lesser-known dramas rather than resort to avant-garde theatrics to make his best-known tragedies seem fresh again?
Off-Broadway’s Signature Theatre Company is currently presenting a superb, highly compelling revival of Miller’s rarely-performed one-act Holocaust drama “Incident at Vichy,” which was first produced in 1964.
Set in Vichy, France in 1942, a group of men, all spotted by the Nazis on the street and believed to be Jews, have been brought to a dilapidated warehouse being used as a detention center for what is purportedly a routine inspection of their identification papers.
The men, who are of different social classes and professions, look tense and scared. After an initial period of silence, they begin to talk among themselves about what is going on. One asks another if he is “Peruvian,” apparently code for Jewish.
Acknowledging the rumors of crowded freight trains headed for death camps, many of the men attempt to rationally explain why it would not make sense for the Nazis to commit mass murder.
A great chunk of the dialogue resembles a long-winded treatise on psychology and ethics. Nevertheless, the play is suspenseful throughout, with the crowd being slowly reduced as each is called upon to meet with the Nazi officials privately.
It explores some of the most agonizing questions posed by the Holocaust, including how seemingly respectable citizens committed or condoned human atrocities and whether many Jews denied the threatening realities surrounding them.
Michael Wilson’s production is marked by a tall, gray-toned set that evokes an uncomfortable, unsafe atmosphere. The excellent ensemble cast includes Richard Thomas as a genteel Viennese prince, Darren Pettie as an assertive psychiatrist and James Carpinello as a stressed-out, increasingly unstable army officer.
If you go: “Incident at Vichy” plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center through Dec. 20. 480 W. 42nd St., signaturetheatre.org.