The Andersonville Trial Review - Obedience vs. Conscience

It’s always a pleasure to see a great play again being performed live. Awash with awards (Tony nomination for George C. Scott in the hit Broadway production, EMMY and Peabody Awards for a television adaptation), this provocative play was first produced within a decade after the Nuremberg trials in Germany. THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL tosses out questions of power and authority when conscience is ignored. “But I was only following orders.” Is this an adequate defense when human rights are being trampled?

 

THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL is based on the real-life trial of Henry Wirz, who was in charge of the infamous Confederate Andersonville prison in Georgia. Nearly 13,000 Union prisoners of war died in two short years. Without food, shelter, water, medicine, or the simple amenities of life, dozens of prisoners died each day. When outsiders tried to intervene with supplies, they were often turned away. A “dead-line” was established at Andersonville’s perimeters; crossing – or even touching - that line led to immediate death. Wirz was in charge of the prison and could have helped alleviate this “hell on earth.” But Wirz had to answer to his military superior, who hated “Johnny-Reb;” Wirz's defense was that he was a good soldier who followed orders.

 

This play is not much of a cliff-hanger, since the verdict seems all too apparent for such atrocities; but the historical facts are shocking and not commonly discussed in the American educational system. Will Wirz becomes the only man ever to be hanged for war crimes during the American Civil War? The issues raised are philosophical conundrums. What is right or wrong in wartime? Does morality trump obedience - or vice versa? Playwright Saul Levitt’s script remains timely and will probably continue to be timely into the next century.  

 

The entire cast do a yeoman’s job of presenting the word-heavy production with enthusiasm and precision. Joe Colligan (Attorney Baker), Mark Belnick (Attorney General Chipman), and Ian Patrick Williams (Wirz) head a cast of ten. Director Gary Lee Reed helms the production with strength and involvement. It is especially interesting that Reed and Colligan have a family interest in this play. Reed is a descendant of Robert E. Lee, Commander-in-Chief of the Confederate army. Colligan recently discovered that his mother’s great-great uncle died in Andersonville prison. These personal investments help make a meaningful story come alive. The concept of a military trial would also be right up the alley for Greg Allan Martin (in the role of presiding Judge Wallace), since Martin also functions as Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. Not to be outdone, Mark Belnick is a practicing attorney and visiting law professor at Pepperdine University School of Law. Fiction and reality are working together to make an intriguing blend in this production. As the cast settles into the play, THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL will continue to develop and grow into a fine production. 

Gary Lee Reed’s set design accurately fits the tale. Matt Richter’s lighting and David B. Marling’s sound enhance the production. Wendell C. Carmichael’s costumes appear relatively authentic but could sometimes use a bit of tailoring. The entire production crew takes the audience back 150 years in time. 

 

THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL runs through April 10, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Grove Theatre Center is located at 1111-B West Olive Avenue, Burbank, CA 91506 (in George Izay Park). Tickets are $25. For reservations, call 323-960-7738 or go online at www.plays411.com/andersonville.

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