Sunday, January 14, 2018

The White Rose

Young activist Sophie Scholl (Michelle Monheit) is accused of distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets
and is interrogated by Anton Mahler (Grey Turner),
Bauer (Skye McIlraith) and police chief Robert Mohr (Gracelyn Watkins).
Courtesy photo
The White Rose was an organization of German students founded in Munich in 1942, with the goal of exposing Nazi crimes and injustices. They wrote and circulated some 15,000 leaflets over the next year and then in 1943, some of the students were arrested for distributing treasonous material. The students were held and interrogated for five days, and then executed.

“The White Rose” is a play by Lillian Garrett-Groag, directed by Emily Henderson and performed by a talented cast of Acme Theatre Company actors at the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre.

The play covers the arrest and interrogation of the students, mixed with flashbacks to the formation of the group, its growing passion, and increasing boldness in the name of nationalism.

When it debuted in New York in 1991, it was highly criticized by critics who felt it was overly dramatic and questioned its veracity. (“Fake news” as theater?) However, seen in the light of 2018, it perhaps takes on a bit more importance as we pay attention to the warnings it gives.

Acme has never shied away from asking difficult questions and giving the audience something to think about.

The program, for example, includes a helpful list of five early signs of fascism, which includes such things “Destruction of human rights,” “Controlled media” and “Corporate power being protected — when the rich or elite are voted into positions of power and then use the power granted to them to protect their assets.”

Director Henderson asks, “What do we do when each day brings a new erosion of democracy? What are we supposed to do now?”

She also asks, “What does it mean to be immersed in historical injustice and current inhumanity? To come of age under the reign of a delusional leader? How do personal faith, truth and honor operate when law and morality are in direct conflict? How do you proceed if your country becomes unrecognizable?”

She has a talented cast to try to answer such questions. There are eight characters in the play and two of the roles are double-cast, so 10 actors altogether bring the story of these students to life.
In the production I saw, Eleanor Richter played Sophie Scholl of the White Rose and Gracelyn Watkins was Robert Mohr, the police investigator who spends days trying to get her to confess to her crimes. These two are the heart of this play, Mohr wanting to save this young girl who is the age of his daughter, and Scholl, willing to give up her life to help save her country. Both actors are excellent and their final emotional interrogation scene is riveting.

Grey Turner is mesmerizing as Anton Mahler, the office Nazi intent on punishing the students in the extreme. The blond Turner is the perfect Aryan, with a growing sneer throughout the play and a “Heil Hitler” salute that is crisp every time. (It was nice seeing Turner in the talk-back at the end of the show as a normal, appealing young man and not the unlikable Nazi!)

Others in the show include Cory McCutcheon as Sophie’s brother Hans, Dezla Dawkins, Kieran Cubbage and Sophie Nachmanoff as the rest of the White Rose cohorts arrested, and Skye McIlraith as the guard who sits outside Mohr’s office and escorts the prisoners to and from their cells.
Michelle Monheit shares the role of Sophie with Richter and Garnet Phinney shares the role of Mohr with Watkins.

This is a play that should be seen by more people than I fear it will be. It has a message that is delivered powerfully and it leaves the audience with many things to think about as they watch what patriotic students would sacrifice to save the soul of their country.

Be sure to check out the lobby before or after the show to see the photos and read the bios of the real students whose story this play tells.

No comments: