"Hauptmann" review- City Lit Theater's winner about a memorable crime and questionable trial

City Lit Theater Company, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, is currently presenting the 30th anniversary production of the play “Hauptmann”, by John Logan, through July 10, 2016.  It is flawlessly directed by Terry McCabe, who also directed the play in it’s world premiere as well as it’s British, Equity, and New York premieres. Starring George Seegebrecht, in what often feels like a one-man performance, so thoroughly does his character and presence dominate the show, this is an engaging and intense portrayal of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man many scholars now believe was framed for the murder of Charles Lindbergh, Junior, the baby son of “Lucky Lindy” and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. 6 other actors portray several characters each, and together the cast does a fine job in telling the story of the crime, the arrest, and the trial of Hauptmann.

George Seegebrecht as Hauptmann

The play is  appropriately grimly set (thanks to set designer James Dardenne) in a prison cell in 1936. The stark lighting (thanks to lighting designer Margaret Lorinczi) and staid realistic costumes (thanks to costume designer LaVisa Angela Williams) add to the atmosphere of hopelessness and impending doom as the hapless Hauptmann, spinning out his tale in near-perfect German-accented lines, tells his story and tries to proclaim his innocence. Supported by a cast of efficient guards, the curiously lifeless Lindberghs, Hauptmann’s tragic wife Anna,  the unwholesome, ominous and sometimes ridiculous reporters, witnesses, and legal personnel, his is a compelling performance with authentic period details as well as an absolutely riveting courtroom drama.

 

Indeed, the courtroom scenes are the best in the play. Brian Pastor does a grand job of portraying the bullying prosecutor, Robert Kaercher is hilariously understated as the bumbling judge, Jerry Bloom is masterful as the insincere and interfering John J. Condon. Yet, if the audience thought they were only going to see innocence railroaded, they had another “think” coming; the play shows us both sides of the case.

It's true that the obvious inequalities of the case shine through clearly. On one side there was a beloved American hero (only later to be known as an anti-Semite and Nazi sympathizer) and the State spending a cool million to prosecute. On the other side was a poor handyman with a criminal record- an illegal immigrant from our impending enemy, Germany-the ironies abound. And, yes, the case against Hauptmann was devoid of “real” evidence- no eyewitnesses, no motive. However, the damning fact that Hauptmann ended up with a bundle of the ransom money and his spelling and handwriting matched the ransom notes coupled with his criminal past raised serious questions. But evidence beyond a reasonable doubt? Not even close- surely not close enough to send a man to the electric chair. 

Seated: George Seegebrecht. Standing, left to right: Jerry Bloom, Kat Evans, Brian Pastor, Ryan David Heywood, Sheila Willis, Robert Kaercher

Kudos assuredly belongs to the author and the director for presenting the story of an era, a sensational crime, a police procedural  and  a trial in near-perfect fashion. Likewise, the success of the piece is dependent  upon  the sheer brilliance of Seegebrecht, who inhabits the personae of Hauptmann so convincingly that it was almost eerie to behold.The production is strong and strongly recommended.

 

For tickets to this and other fine productions in next season’s super lineup, go to the Citylittheater website

 

Photos courtesy of Paul Grigonis

 

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