The Accomplices Theater Review - A Fountain Theater Revival at the Odyssey Powerfully Explores Another Facet of the Holocaust.

Merlin (William Dennis Hurley) plans with Peter (Steven Schub)

( Los Angeles, CA) May 25, 2009 - In Bernard Weintraub’s play, THE ACCOMPLICES, the protagonist Peter Bergson states that “History shall be our judge.” The person he is talking to is President Franklyn Delano Roosevelt. As far as history is concerned, F.D.R. is viewed as a man of courage, a true diplomat, the man who helped saved the United States from The Great Depression, and who was instrumental in our victory during World War Two. Many called him their savior; some have called him their messiah.

But presidents are not messiahs; they are very much human with their strengths and especially their weaknesses. This is very applicable to Roosevelt, and Bergson is the man who brings these weaknesses of denial and pride into light. The Fountain Theater's revival of Bernard Weintraub's THE ACCOMPLICES at the Odyssey is an incredible tour-de-force exploration concerning a rarely explored facet of the Holocaust, driven by a passionate performance by Steven Schub.

Peter (Steven Schub)provides the driving narrative in the story

The story takes place during World War Two, from 1940 to 1944. We meet Peter Bergson ( Schub), the leader of the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews. He narrates to the audience how he fled persecution of the Nazis to America, where he hopes to bring awareness of the genocide that is occurring to his people. He initially seeks help from the leader of the American Jewish Congress and Zionist Organization of America, Rabbi Stephen Wise (Malachi Throne). But Wise fears Bergson ’s blunt and straightforward style and fears that anti-Semitism might increase if Bergson is given free reign. When discouraged by Wise, Bergson finds allies in the Hollywood industry, most notably Oscar winning screenwriter and journalist, Ben Hecht ( Dennis Gersten), who helps Bergson build his campaign by writing newspaper ads about the Nazi genocide, as well as sponsoring a dramatic pageant at key cities starring Edward G. Robinson and Paul Muni. But these efforts are in vain as Wise discredits Bergson and his staff for being too “radical” in their views. This form of denial reaches all the way to the White House, where Roosevelt ( Time Winters) appoints his Assistant Secretary of State and good friend, Breckinridge Long ( Brian Carpenter), in charge of immigration and refugees. But when Long obstructs rescue attempts by withholding visas from Jewish immigrants, resulting in their eventual deaths, Bergson’s crusade for justice and the salvation for his people climax when he comes face to face with the President.

It is not a surprise that The Fountain Theatre Company brought this wonderful play to life again in Los Angeles . Its writing is brilliant and Deborah Lavine directs the play with a type of energy that doesn’t let the audience go. The acting is incredible across the board, but Schub is the driving force of the play’s soul. His intensity for Peter ’s mission is equally matched by his vulnerability, especially when he meets his future wife, Betty (played with genuine sweetness by Annika Marks). Their chemistry together is fluid and natural, as it is with Peter ’s best friend, Merlin (portrayed by William Dennis Hurley with charm in Act One and with heartbreaking pathos by the end of Act Two). Schub’s mercurial talent draws the audience in as he narrates his tale, and his angry passion erupts against those who try to stop him.

Two actors who also transcend beyond their roles are Malachi Throne and Dennis Gersten. A consummate professional of stage, screen, and television, Throne’s portrayal of Wise is an amalgam of wisdom laced with fear, shrewdness mixed with self-interest. Wise, although instrumental in the endless attempts to slander Bergson, is also a man of guilt. Throne masterfully and with delicate subtlety conjures his antagonist with a foundation of flawed humanity. Equally moving is Gersten who performs one of the best dual-character performances I have ever seen in years. In the first act, he plays Hecht with an air of strutting flamboyance and political savvy. Dressed in a stark white suit, he exudes Hollywood success. But when he befriends Bergson, Gersten reveals Hecht’s integrity by giving Bergson something he rarely shows: his respect. Gersten balances that emotional range with expert craftsmanship as he does with his Act Two role: Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau. By simply wearing spectacles and a blue sports jacket, Gersten plays a politician who starts off emotionally distant. But when he gets to know Bergson, his own shame of his Jewish heritage (courtesy of the ridicule by his friend, F.D.R.) slowly dissolves and is suddenly replaced with a vital sense of courage. And Gersten’s performance is enhanced by Schub’s honest portrayal of someone who can bring out the good qualities of a man that, for some reason or another, have been hidden or buried.

Merlin (William Dennis Hurley)and Peter (Steven Schub)

But Bergson also brings out the bad qualities of a person as well, most notably from Breckinridge Long and F.D.R. himself. Carpenter’s Long is the epitome of upper class snobbery and self-indulgent apathy. When his staff approaches him regarding the ever-increasing number of Jewish deaths in concentration camps, Long is more concerned about the St. Louis Cardinals winning any future games because their starters have been drafted into the war. And whenever Bergson becomes a burr in Long’s bonnet, Carpenter perfectly reveals the greed and anti-Semitism that drives this privileged Ivy Leaguer.

Time Winters has the most difficult job in portraying Roosevelt’s flaws, specifically regarding his initial denial that a genocide is occurring and how his pride is causing more overall harm to the Jewish people than good, especially relying on the advice of Wise and Long. How can one portray a president’s negative traits, whereas history has painted him as a hero?  Winters reveals that answer beautifully. He takes on this challenge by portraying a President of the United States as he should be portrayed, not how the public views him: a flawed human being. He captures the essence of the person with the wheelchair, make-up, gestures, and especially his voice. He’s very likable in the first act. However, as Bergson’s persistence and notoriety increase, so does Roosevelt ’s temper. His pride almost leads him to his spiritual and political downfall until he finally meets the passionate Bergson. Winters walks this tightrope excellently by playing this unexpected antagonist as a man, not a villain.

 

Steven Schub reprises his role as Peter Bergson, who seeks salvation for his fellow Jews

Another character that deserves credit is the stage design itself. Designer Scott Siedman splits the three-quarter stage in half. The left side---which represents Bergson’s apartment---is tan with pillars and shelves made out of newspapers, looking very much like a paper mache cave. On the right side everything is painted grey, with shelves and pillars being composed of file boxes, looking frighteningly similar to a bunker. On this “cleaner side,” scenes take place inside Long’s and Roosevelt’s offices. But looking at the overall theatrical mosaic, the stage symbolizes the concept of the human condition: what may look clean on the surface may actually be ugly underneath. Regardless, we will never forget the Holocaust, as the audience will never forget THE ACCOMPLICES.

The Accomplices opened April 24, 2009 and will run through June 14, 2009

Odyssey Theatre (Produced by The Fountain Theatre in association with the Israeli Leadership Council

2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles , CA 90025


Thursday through Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm

For reservations:
call: (323) 663-1525
online: www.fountaintheatre.com


Photos by: Ed Krieger

 

 

 

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