Sunday, November 18, 2018
Stage

Seventy years after war crimes trials, ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ still asks a timely question

TAMPA — A simple set tells the story. A table for three judges assigned to rule on war crimes following World War II rests on stacks of suitcases, signifying hasty travel. On the floor, by a gallery of defendants, snakes a trail of discarded shoes. Where they were going, most of these travelers wouldn’t have needed these items for long.

Stageworks Theatre opened its season with Judgment at Nuremberg, a fictionalized take on the Justice Case of 1947, part of the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings run by United States military courts. The 1959 play by Abby Mann quickly turned into a movie starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster and Marlene Dietrich. It won several Academy Award nominations and a best adapted screenplay Oscar for Mann.

Stageworks producing artistic director Karla Hartley and Matthew Ray co-direct a cast of 17 in this production, with partial backing from the Florida Holocaust Museum and Tampa Jewish Community Centers. The subject matter still reeks of significance, only in this case with an additional advantage. Mann stipulates to the atrocities of the Holocaust but dwells on a subtler set of issues, namely the degree of culpability among judges who enforced the Nuremberg Laws, which punished and condemned residents to death based on ethnicity.

At least the playwright seems to have been aiming for subtlety, remarkable so soon after the war ended. It even includes references to the indirect responsibility of other nations for creating the conditions that helped Hitler’s rise, including American automotive companies.

Such caveats come infrequently and when they do, it’s usually the German defense lawyer making them. Derrick Phillips plays Oscar Rolfe, who is defending prominent judge and legal scholar Ernst Janning. Phillips moves around the stage like a practiced litigator; his performance is one of several bright spots in a show that is by turns engaging and workmanlike. Janning, who later casts off his lawyer to make his own impassioned statement, says he came to despise Hitler and the bigotry disguised as patriotism he represented.

e_SDLqThere was a fever over the land — a fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. Above all, there was fear," he tells the court in a monologue that acknowledges his own complicity while arguing for a salutary role he played in mitigating some punishments. Hugh Timoney plays Janning with a certain sad elegance; it’s effective if not spellbinding.

It’s up to Judge Dan Haywood in the Spencer Tracy role to sort out these complexities. That he can navigate Germany of the 1930s with his homespun South Carolina wisdom is the show’s central conceit. Jim Wicker does an admirable job in the role, and we can appreciate his bewilderment when he asks, "What the hell happened in this country?"

A subplot zeroes in on Janning’s Feldenstein case, in which a Jewish man was executed for his friendship with a 16-year-old German girl. Marie-Claude Tremblay and Jamie Giangrande-Holcom give strong performances as Maria and a witness against her and Feldenstein. Kudos also to Elizabeth Fendrick for her portrayal of Frau Bertholt, a sophisticated apologist for looking the other way and an almost-love interest for the judge.

The judge pokes and prods, he listens and overrules, and eventually decides that right is right and wrong is wrong.

"I understand the pressures you faced," he tells Janning, who he has just sentenced to life in prison. Except he probably doesn’t.

If the passage of time has revealed a flaw in Judgment at Nuremberg, it is the implication that American goodness and common sense are enough to offset the kind of creeping nationalism it is warning against. To his credit, the judge asks someone early on, "Are you saying the kind of things that happened here could happen at home?"

By relegating that question to its fringes, the play gives us an answer straight out of 1959: Probably not.

Contact Andrew Meacham at
[email protected] or (727) 892-2248.
Follow @torch437.

Comments
So why isn't Blake Casper resting on his laurels and eating Egg McMuffins every morning at one of his 64 McDonalds?

So why isn't Blake Casper resting on his laurels and eating Egg McMuffins every morning at one of his 64 McDonalds?

He is. But he says he has other restaurants to create
Updated: 4 hours ago
Violinist Esther Yoo dazzles with Florida Orchestra in Mendelssohn concerto

Violinist Esther Yoo dazzles with Florida Orchestra in Mendelssohn concerto

British influences dominated the Florida Orchestra concert, 'A London Symphony.' A German composer's signature work stole the show.
Published: 11/17/18
‘Hamilton’ ticket sales brought early morning frenzy to the Straz

‘Hamilton’ ticket sales brought early morning frenzy to the Straz

Customers huddled in the dark before 5 a.m. By 8:30, the number had swelled to 675.
Published: 11/16/18
At 24, violinist Esther Yoo is already making a mark in the music world

At 24, violinist Esther Yoo is already making a mark in the music world

She performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London on Wednesday. She solos with the Florida Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
Published: 11/16/18
What’s on stage this week: Florida Orchestra brings in a rising star, Il Divo returns, new plays open

What’s on stage this week: Florida Orchestra brings in a rising star, Il Divo returns, new plays open

Esther Yoo plays Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ comes to the Mahaffey.
Published: 11/14/18
Joggers, cyclists now wait to see where future of Upper Tampa Bay Trail leads

Joggers, cyclists now wait to see where future of Upper Tampa Bay Trail leads

Hillsborough commissioners are not recommending a realignment of the Upper Tampa Bay Trail to make room for a 300-unit apartment block. But whether trail users can claim victory is unsure.
Published: 11/13/18
Fluid Expressions, a new Tampa theater, debuts with Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog

Fluid Expressions, a new Tampa theater, debuts with Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog

The Pulitzer-winning play zeroes in on brothers named Lincoln and Booth. And a theater created by and for minorities gets off to a strong start.
Published: 11/12/18

Hamilton tickets go on sale in Tampa this week. Here's what you need to know.

Immediately after announcing it had booked Hamilton, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts had to revise its automated phone greeting. Fans calling about Hamilton could press 1. Everyone wanted to know when tickets were going on sale...
Published: 11/09/18
Updated: 11/13/18

Florida Orchestra, Holocaust Museum collaborate in a stirring A Child of Our Time

TAMPA — Eighty years ago this weekend, Nazi rioters unleashed a wave of antisemitic violence and rage. Whipped up by the propaganda minister and aided by the Gestapo, they killed scores of citizens, burned hundreds of synagogues, and vandalized or de...
Published: 11/09/18
Updated: 11/10/18
Owner of The Brunchery in Valrico is bidding farewell to her 30-year labor of love

Owner of The Brunchery in Valrico is bidding farewell to her 30-year labor of love

VALRICO — On Tuesday, her first official day of retirement, Brunchery owner Kevyn Farley takes a seat in the restaurant she’s owned and operated for 30 1/2 years and the community connection she has established immediately becomes evide...
Published: 11/07/18
Updated: 11/12/18