It’s always a pleasure to discover a new theatre in Atlanta; I’m not sure how long Onion Man Productions has been around, but seeing David L. Fisher’s powerful drama “The Jew Catcher,” running through April 22, was my first time at this venue, which is based in Chamblee.
It’s a world premiere, and I will say up front that I think this this poignant Holocaust drama has legs. I believe the current fine production is the beginning of a long life for the play, directed here by Tanya Caldwell.
The setting is not during World War II; instead, we’re in Los Angeles, 1962. A Holocaust survivor has recognized a man who betrayed her to the Gestapo. She decides to tell the elders of her synagogue about it, and soon there is a small coterie of people assigned to see if her discovery is authentic and provable.
The central figure here is Karl Lindental (Robert Stevens Wayne), whom we first meet in seemingly casual conversation with a young man named Neil (Joseph Edward Johnson). Karl, who claims he is Alsatian, seems pleasant and harmless enough; but if you watch and listen to him closely, you’ll discern he is almost humming with an ever-present tension and alertness.
Neil shares a meal with Karl and plays chess with him. Neil is friendly and boyish, but he is a part of the coterie mentioned above sent to ferret out facts from Karl’s past. Was Karl, in fact, a “catcher” for the Gestapo, hunting down Jews in hiding or pretending to be non-Jews, and then betraying them to the Nazis?
I don’t have to tell you that catchers actually existed: people, sometimes Jewish themselves, who for money betrayed others and sent many Jews to their deaths. History records a woman named Stella Kubler who did this, both for money and also to avoid deportation of herself and her parents.
Was Karl Lindental such a person? And if he was, what were his motives for doing such heinous acts? These are questions that “The Jew Catcher” asks; and as in real life, there are no easy answers here, and the reasons may be complex and enigmatic. I shall not provide you with any answer at all; you must see the play.
But the unfolding of evidence and search for motives, as well as testimony of Holocaust survivors, make for an unsettling, ominous, and sometimes heart-rending evening. The playwright carefully unfolds the revealing of information, and Director Caldwell has gotten outstanding performances from a totally committed fine cast.
Phyllis H. Giller’s performance as a concentration camp survivor is harrowing and unforgettable. I wasn’t familiar with her work before “The Jew Catcher”; but I am now, and I’ll be watching.
Michelle (Sofia Palmero) plays a young woman you’d never suspect is an expert detective; but she is. Alex Parkinson and Hannah Hyde are most impressive with the concentration and empathy they lend their characters. They are part of an ensemble that, a various times and unexpectedly, display a virtuosity that is quite riveting: Lee Buechele and Lory Cox complete this outstanding cast.
Robert Stevens Wayne has played serious roles in many Atlanta productions; he is well-known for his work in musicals, possessing an excellent singing voice. But his performance here is a revelation: playing a multifaceted human being riddled with ghosts and guilt and constant wariness, he more than rises to the occasion: He stuns, and his work demands to be seen.
Any brand new play will inevitably undergo some tweaking; it’s a part of what talented playwrights do, and Mr. Fisher is just that. But this drama concerning history’s darkest hours deserves to be seen. Incidentally, an extra performance has been added for April 19. Check the website.
For more information and tickets, visit onionmanproductions.com