Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Incident at Vichy

Yesterday, I set aside the Kundera novel [Immortality] to just spend some time with a play by Arthur Miller.
Incident at Vichy, first published in 1964, is one of Miller’s lesser known works, but I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I conclude once again, as I did earlier this year after reading Death of a Salesman…. Miller is a genius!
The Crucible is another gem that everyone should read! Really, he is fantastically good.
Incident at Vichy takes place in 1942, in Nazi-occupied France [Vichy].
The setting is very simple. A detention room, where eight men and a young boy are being held. One by one, they are interrogated in an adjoining room and none of them are sure of the reason for their arrest.
In the tense interim, as would be expected, they talk with one another.
Some of these men are Jews, and some are not.
Soon, the consensus is that Jewishness is indeed the “crime” for which they’ve been rounded up, and rumors and speculations are exchanged.
Those who feel that their interrogation may end with a “pass” allowing them to leave, become optimistic. Those who know that they themselves are Jewish, panic. And the tension in the room mounts.
Should they try to escape? Should they behave themselves and hope for release? Surely, surely their worst fears cannot be true?
Soon there are only two men left in the room, awaiting judgment.
And Miller ends this 70-page nerve-rattler with a wonderful twist.
I’ll only say that it is amazing how little paper Miller needs to show us the worst and the best of what it means to be a human being.

My Reading-Partner Friend/Woman is right now, even as I post this blog, attending a production of this play.
This is why we read it together, yesterday. She wanted to renew her acquaintance with the thing, before seeing it performed LIVE! I know that later tonight, she will have many interesting things to say about it. I wish that I could have gone to it with her.
Last night she shared with me some research she had done, on the play.

Apparently, the story itself came from a tale that Miller had heard about a Holocaust survivor, told to Miller by his psychiatrist. It was about a Jew who was rescued from the Nazis by a total stranger.
Miller speaks of directing a production of Incident at Vichy some 20 years after the end of the war and, to his astonishment, having to explain to the young actors what the SS was!
The only other play that had dealt with the topic in the twenty years since the end of the war was The Diary of Anne Frank. Miller said, "There is something wrong when an audience can see a play about the Nazi treatment of a group of Jews hiding in an attic and come away feeling . . . gratification."

From the time that he was very young, Miller was aware of being "different" (Jewish) and felt a sort of warning atmosphere from adults. Whatever it was that gave him this feeling of foreboding, he was aware of it hanging over him. He writes at length of his mother's "mysticism" and her fervor extending even to the point of feeling that the dead communicated with her. And in fact, she may have been right.
While they were vacationing, and she was in a deep sleep, she suddenly sat up and said, "My mother died."
She was right. Her mother had died during that exact hour.

Miller said that his experiences with this sensing of lurking danger was something he had learned, but he had not been taught "how to defend against it. The dilemma would last a long time. The ... effort to locate in the human species a counterforce to the randomness of victimization, underlie the political aspect of my play, Incident at Vichy."

The play, then, attempts to answer the question of how to defend against danger, or evil. A topic that seems to enthrall many people [including myself].
Most critics panned it as being too lecture-riddled. Too didactic. Vichy was banned in the Soviet Union.

All I can say is that I am glad it is available to us today.
Both in book format, and in LIVE performances.
I hope to hear good things about this latter format, tonight.
Neither here nor there, but... the first time this play was performed LIVE was at the Washington Square Theatre in New York City on Dec.3rd, 1964.
The next day was my first birthday!
ONE year old! Ahhh, I remember it well!
Had such a terrific time I _ _ _ _ my pants and was not even slightly apologetic about it! I almost had a similar such "incident" during certain portions of this book!
Listen, I encourage you to spend some time with Incident at Vichy.
You can read it inside an hour or so.
It is truly unforgettable.


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