Capitol punishment in the USA is a mechanised procedure. In the administering of lethal injections, a number of guards are used, each given an individual tasking, the placing of one needle here, the rolling of a trolley there, so that when the final button is pushed, not one individual thinks the death of the inmate is their fault alone, they alone are not responsible for homicide. This was the crux of Eichmann’s argument in his trial for war crimes in Israel in 1962, and an important question that I thought would be addressed in The Trial of Adolf Eichmann. Instead was a jumble of images, none weak, none strong, that left the physically well mapped out production with a vagueness towards its true intentions, the desire for reverence towards the survivors of the holocaust affecting any penetration of the problems of systematised violence, and its continued ripples throughout society.
Neil Cole’s script is an attempt to cover the trial of the “architect of the final solution”, Adolf Eichmann, following his kidnapping to Israel and subsequent trial for crimes in the early 1960’s. This is interwoven with the stories of holocaust survivors Arnold Erlanger and Kitia Altman, subsequent Melbournians. Both stories provoke interest; the post-war years whose fallout lasted decades longer than anyone predicted, the cruel ironies that decided life or death over the millions victims of the holocaust, the survivors and their wonder at the very fact of their survival.
These themes are carried out symbolically, the characters carrying certain props around, transferring them, highlighting them more than they needed to. Arnold and Kitia’s stories, although interesting in themselves, have trouble extending to Eichmann’s story, which, although it is titled as such, the play barely covers in any real sense. Every player in this twisted, damaged, raked over and sublime horror has a story attached to them, whether it be sympathetic or sociopathic. The punches in this play were pulled, giving Eichmann a voice only in the seeming transcripts of the trials or the robot answers of meetings. This is the standard. Eichmann himself seems to be the pinnacle of moral paradox, as Hannah Arendt said, the centre point of “the banality of evil”. And yet since that point has been made I do not buy it as dramatic currency. If you are going to deal with the subject, deal with it. I don’t mean by portraying graphic representations of the results, I mean by dealing with the fact that the holocaust was made by and of human beings. Drily recounting events through the shrug of history’s shoulders, held up by the transcripts of a generation other than ours, does not, nor will it ever, salve the guilt felt by an act that remains a blur in the corner of our eyes.
The staging was well spaced and physical, the transitions of actors to their different, symbolic roles, effective. Again the parts of Arnold and Kitia were diminished by their soft brush, their lack of power compared to the scenes with figures of authority, raised on platforms, gowned or uniformed, behind desks or paper or pens. This was sometimes effective, sometimes a detriment, to the play. The ultimate failing of this play was the timidity towards its characterisations. The play wants to invest in Kitia and Arnold’s story, but always withholds. Too timid to invest in a monster, too desirous to side with the sympathetic characters, The Trial of Adolf Eichmann’s frailty stands in its inability to privilege its subject matter over its symbols.
The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
By Neil Cole
Directed by Jasper Bagg
AT: Studio 1, Northcote Town Hall (189 High St Northcote)
21 October to 8 November
$27 / $17concession /$22 Preview /$15 Preview Concession, Groups 10+, Early Bird (book before 10th Oct), Community Groups