Theater Review - A Civil Action

Jewish Theatre of the South’s The Action Against Sol Schumann, like Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, hinges on the question, “What did you do during the war, Dad?” Playwright Jeffrey Sweet depicts the shock of two sons (David Marshall Silverman and Dan Triandiflou) when they discover that their father (Barry L. Anbinder in the title role) may have survived years in a concentration camp at the expense of other Jews.

Directed by Amy Feinberg, Action embraces self-conscious theatrical style, with short, often choppy scenes and distracting details such as having actors remain on stage like a jury. Sweet’s play would benefit from fewer roles, longer scenes and more realistic sets, which would let the characters breathe and the material expand.

The play opens in 1985, on the eve of President Reagan’s controversial visit to a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, which includes graves of SS officers. Sol’s elder son, substitute teacher Aaron (Silverman), protests Bitburg and other Jewish causes, while Michael (Triandiflou), a more “assimilated” accountant, avoids confrontation. But they’re both shocked when the U.S. government’s Office of Special Investigations holds their father’s past up to scrutiny.

Credit Sweet for examining the case from all possible angles, including the relationship between war crimes and U.S. immigration, and whether legitimately persecuting a Jew will justify the anti-Semitism of bigots. But the drama turns static when it takes time out to debate such notions as whether actions define people. Sweet’s mention of the World Trade Center, while period-appropriate, feels mostly like a signifier of the play’s mighty big ideas.

Still, Action’s core couldn’t be stronger, with well-cast leads and taut scenes of interviews and legal skull sessions. Feinberg stages a press conference scene by putting actors amid the audience in a clever touch. As Sol, Anbinder so credibly carries the weight of his years and experiences that we’re disappointed the text doesn’t give him more stage time. The Action Against Sol Schumann proves the rare play that would be improved by being more conventional.

The Action Against Sol Schumann plays through Feb. 29 at Jewish Theatre of the South, Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. Wed., Thurs. and Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. $18-24. 770-395-2654.