Review by Tulis McCall
Oh wow! A play about six white men!
That being said, there is some riveting theatre going on here. Well there is one great scene.
Backtrack. In 1952, Stalin, in an act of capricious evil, created a list of 26 Yiddish writers who were to be rounded up and executed. These were the same writers, who had joined with Stalin to develop multi-culturalism and, years later, to defeat Hitler. Their execution was a betrayal of everything they had been encouraged to create: theatre, schools, literature, and newspapers. Stalin, in spite of the fact that his regime was the first to support the state of Israel, feared the strength of the Jewish intelligentsia at home. He wanted them gone. And that was that.
So we meet Moishe Bretzky (Daniel Oreskes), Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin) and Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien) hours after they have been locked together in a small cell. They know what is coming, and only Korinsky refuses to believe that he is among this particular chosen. Korinsky was one of the more vocal supporters of all that was Stalin. Surely his inclusion in the death line-up is a mistake.
Into this trio is dragged a final young man - the 27th man. He is Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins). Pelovits is an unpublished writer who seems to be some sort of savant (one of the weaknesses in this script is explaining this important detail) who lives rent-free in the inn that his parents owned and were forced to give up. He was part of the deal. Pelovits is so devoted to writing every day that his first words on being unwrapped from the rug in which he was delivered are “A piece of paper! A pen!”
Once the identity of the young man is confirmed, the four men look for a reason why this child was included in their midst. And here is the big oops of this piece. From the way they are talking you would think they were discussing seating arrangements in a passenger compartment on a train. These are people hours away from death. Hello?
It is not until the brilliant and brutal scene between the Agent in Charge (Byron Jennings) and Korinsky that we get to witness the slow reveal of the thought process involved in this mass execution. Kroinsky is called to the office for what he believes will be a short meeting to exonerate him. Instead he is compromised with each word that he speaks. These two performers become masters (Zien is finally seated which neutralizes his Jackie Mason gestures) at bluster, standoff, submission, and defiance. If the rest of the play were up to the level of this scene it would be an extraordinary event indeed.
But the rest of the play is not. The actors do everything they can to give this one a leg-up, and the story itself is compelling and shameful. Yet another atrocity carried out and covered up, now finally pulled into the light, so bravo for that.
Still, it is one of those odd, and sadly frequent, confluences. The story will stay with you, and that one office scene will stay with you, but the rest will fade. Too bad!
"A sense of dreary stasis slowly envelops the play as the academic arguments drag on."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"An understated, quietly powerful meditation on identity and culture.”
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"A piercing and memorable experience."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Compelling production that I won't soon forget."
Robert Feldberg and The Record
"Nathan Englander's dark and disturbing political drama ..., seems to belong on the page rather than the stage.
Marilyn Stasio and Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...