“Man in the Glass Booth” tackles responsibility and guilt
Dale Gutzman plays his Nazi war criminal well, but his acting is stronger than the character as-written.
When we think of Nazis, we think Hitler: violent, racist, sociopathic. Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann complicates that picture in a way that’s more terrifying. Despite orchestrating the Holocaust, coordinating the construction of concentration camps and deporting Jews across Eastern Europe, Eichmann claimed he never physically killed anyone: he was a bureaucrat, just following orders.
Eichmann’s tale has been fodder for a number of works since his 1961 trial in Jerusalem, including English playwright Robert Shaw’s The Man in the Glass Booth, which opened at Off the Wall Theatre Thursday. The Man in the Glass Booth fictionalizes Eichmann’s story, giving director and lead actor Dale Gutzman and his cast the opportunity to focus not on his specific moral ambiguities, but those inherent in humanity itself.
The 1968 work opens with Arthur Goldman (Gutzman), an eccentric Manhattan industrialist and concentration camp survivor. He appears to live a normal, successful life in New York, but it’s immediately clear the war still haunts him. Gutzman leaps from subject to subject with a paranoid, manic demeanor; he caustically barrages his assistant Gregory Cohn (Robert Hirschi) with hyper-detailed sexual anecdotes, numerous political gripes and erratic allusions to Nazi Germany.
But he may not be haunted by the same ghosts as other survivors. By the second act, he has been captured by Israeli agents, taken to Jerusalem, and put on trial under the name Adolf Dorff, as a fugitive Nazi war criminal and sadistic lieutenant of a notorious SS death squad. It’s not the last revelation in the play, though, nor the most startling.
Despite remarkable execution on Gutzman’s part, the bigness and absurdity of his acting alone is not enough to fill the moral vacuum at the center of Shaw’s play, which sanitizes his Eichmann stand-in. Instead of the more terrifying reality of a bureaucrat silently plotting the deaths of millions from behind a desk, we’re given Goldman/Dorff, a sensational Jewish-Nazi vaguely emblematic of mankind’s universal susceptibility to evil.
It’s not big, sociopathic characters like Goldman-Dorff who actually enable unimaginable atrocity. Rather, it’s normal people like Eichmann who facilitate the evils of their societies, and ultimately it’s toward their complacency and unconsciousness that we should direct our attention.
The Man in the Glass Booth runs through March 24 at Off the Wall Theatre. Showtimes are Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 4:30 p.m. Tickets cn be purchased in house or at offthewalltheatre.com. Reserved seating $26, general seating $23.50.