Midnight Company's JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG is reveting, historically important theater
by Marc Bretz
April 26, 2018
Story: Following the defeat of the Axis powers by the Allied forces in World War II, a series of post-war trials took place in Nuremberg, Germany. During the second wave of these court proceedings, a number of influential German judges who cooperated with the Nazi regime’s Third Reich face a military tribunal.
Judge Dan Haywood, a district court judge from North Carolina, jokingly tells Allied prosecutor Colonel Tad Parker that he was “way, way down” the list of choices for a judge to preside over the tribunal. That was because at this point the major Nazi criminals already have been tried and executed after their convictions. Many people, including Americans, no longer have the stomach for trying men who cooperated to varying degrees while “simply” following orders.
Nevertheless, Haywood takes his new role most seriously. He has the time, he notes ruefully, since he recently lost his re-election bid to his judicial post and his wife has passed away. While he prepares for the trial, Haywood attempts to learn more about Nuremberg’s history and its people, helped in part by Frau Margarete Bertholt, a noblewoman whose former home now houses Haywood and whose husband was executed for his role in Hitler’s now deposed dictatorship.
Parker heads the prosecution team while a young German attorney named Oscar Rolfe informs the key defendant, German legal scholar and jurist Ernst Janning, that it is his privilege and honor to represent the renowned legal expert who is now on trial himself.
Pressured by fellow tribunal judge Curtis Ives and General Matthew Merrin, leader of the U.S. Army’s occupational forces in Nuremberg, concerning the imminent rise of Russian aggression and an impending “cold war,” Haywood realizes he must come to terms with exactly who and what are on trial and for what alleged crimes. As they pore over the evidence presented, Holland, Ives and fellow judge Ken Norris must weigh their decision on global terms.
Highlights: Ellie Schwetye’s carefully conceived direction and the performances of a large and mostly accomplished cast make The Midnight Company’s presentation of Abby Mann’s superb courtroom drama riveting and historically important theater.
Other Info: Originally produced on TV in 1957, Judgment at Nuremberg was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1961, with Maximilian Schell named Best Actor for his performance as defense attorney Rolfe among an all-star cast including Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark and Montgomery Clift.
Later, Mann’s teleplay was adapted into a drama which debuted on Broadway in 2001. That version doubtless featured the prelude to Midnight Company’s stirring rendition, part of Michael Perkins’ expertly crafted video design, a design which ranges from fascinating to informative to startling and shocking with its usage of film footage from concentration camps.
Schwetye’s sound design, which includes her own narration of the prelude and a bit of an epilogue at the conclusion of the two-act, two-hour work, also features a steady, staccato drum beat which intones the significance of the Nuremberg trials.
Midnight Company artistic director Joe Hanrahan’s notes to the media include references to several St. Louisans, including Whitney Harris, Henry Gerecke, Hedy Epstein and Richard Stokes, who were present in one way or another during the Holocaust and its aftermath. Hearing the dialogue in Mann’s script and observing the events covered in the trial underscore an alarming comparison to many contemporary political activities in the United States.
The set designed by Jonah Sheckler simply but effectively focuses on the tribunal bench at center stage, with the prosecutor’s desk at stage right, the defense attorney and defendants at stage left, and usage of alcoves at the far ends of either side for scenes in Haywood’s temporary home, military offices and a work chamber area for the judges. It’s all carefully illuminated in Bess Moynihan’s lighting design.
One curious element is Sarah Porter’s costume design. While she expertly dresses the players in military uniforms of the day and styles of the era for the men and women, she seems to let Cassidy Flynn as Rolfe ‘skate’ with a mod-style suit, especially his slacks, which certainly don’t mesh with the others. Likewise, it’s highly doubtful that any Army officer in 1947 would have had a beard such as the one sported by Chuck Winning as Parker. These are out of place, at best.
Kudos to dialect coach Pamela Reckamp for excellent accents utilized by Flynn and Francesca Ferrari as a witness named Maria Wallner. Both Flynn and Ferrari, as well as Perkins in a haunting turn as a young man who was sterilized as part of the Nazi plan for racial superiority, do perhaps their best work ever on local stages. Flynn especially delivers a powerful and persuasive performance as the determined and stalwart Rolfe.
Hanrahan anchors the presentation with a steady, sure touch as the amiable Haywood, a self-professed “red-rock Republican” who is increasingly disturbed by the evidence against the German judges which is presented in trial. There’s also excellent work by Rachel Tibbetts as the regal Frau Bertholt, who clings desperately to her belief that she really had no idea what was happening to all of her neighbors who mysteriously disappeared during the war.
Winning does a generally good job as the short-tempered Parker and Steve Callahan handles the role of the stately Janning with a stiff, proper posture both physically and psychologically, deeming himself seemingly above the fray until Janning decides to speak his piece in an attempt to make his peace.
The cumbersome cast, handled adroitly by Schwetye amidst the myriad scene changes, includges Mark Abels as Gen. Merrin, Jaz Tucker as Captain Harrison Byers (who’s dealt with racial issues himself back home in The States), Jack Corey as the domineering Ives and Charles Heuvelman as the quiet Norris.
Terry TenBroek plays German judge and defendant Emil Hahn, Hal Morgan is German judge and defendant Frederick Hoffstetter, Steve Garrett is witness Dr. Karl Wickert, Charlotte Dougherty portrays Haywood’s “loaned” housekeeper Mrs. Habelstadt and Alex Fyles is a soldier and waiter.
Schwetye does superb work corralling such a large and varied cast of performers while still accentuating the importance of what is being dramatized on stage. The Midnight Company’s thorough and detailed production of Judgment at Nuremberg makes for powerful and stunning theater.
Judgement At Nuremberg
by Richard T. Green
June 14, 2017
Abby Mann's 2001 stage adaptation of his powerful film is fresh-and even galvanizing-in a new one-weekend production at the Missouri History Museum. A large cast of talented performers fills every single scene with a discrete understanding of human nature under the direction of Ellie Schwetye.
Midnight Company producer Joe Hanrahan has cast himself as Judge Dan Haywood, the Spencer Tracy role in the 1961 movie. But he gives an honest, genuinely heartwarming performance as an American everyman, rummaging through the ruins of Nuremberg and the aftermath of the Holocaust during a trial of former Nazi judges in 1945-46. He is flanked on the judges' panel by the highly capable actors Jack Corey and Charlie Heuvelman, who thrash out legal issues, usually behind the scenes.
There's a wealth of fine performances on stage, with Chuck Winning and Cassidy Flynn squaring off as the American prosecutor and German defense attorney. Mr. Winning's Colonel Tad Parker initially seems more German than any actual German in the room, strutting into the action, but relaxes soon after. But with that entrance, he also foretells the play's ending note: that America could fall prey to such historical cycles itself. Also in act one, Mr. Flynn demonstrates touching, boyish fealty to his chief client, the brilliant jurist Ernst Janning (here, hawk-like and disdainful Steve Callahan).
The everyday Germans are represented by four characters, including Margarete Bertholt (Rachel Tibbetts), who lost her home to the Allied forces after the war. Her house is now occupied by Judge Haywood, and their relationship is cordial in a way that's also vaguely heartbreaking. Like the other Germans (who were not victims during the war), she has a startling insight into how nationhood superseded personhood in the rise of the Nazis.
Michael B. Perkins and Francesca Ferrari play two of the Nuremberg witnesses, swept up by the Nazis in the 1930s for political crimes. He's Rudolph Peterson, forcibly sterilized by the Nazis for coming from a family of common laborers (and thus seeming to violate the concept of the German Übermensch). Ms. Ferrari plays Maria Wallner, likewise confused by the ferocious pursuit of civilians like her, as enemies of an ideal—in her case for having "relations" with a Jew in the 1930s. Judge Janning unapologetically calls them "excrement," and Steve Garrett (doing fine work as the fourth "everyday German") also recreates the Nazi's harsh sentiments. They are all stark and unblinking performances.
After a stunning video montage of the concentration camps, perhaps the most unsettling dimension of Judgment at Nuremberg comes near the end, with an appeal for mercy for the German judges, coming from Mark Abels as a senior U.S. Army officer, for political reasons; and from Judge Ives (Mr. Corey), based on legal precedent. In this sense, the ways men choose to blind themselves, out of fear, never really die out. They run right up into our present, just as easily as before all this began.
Gripping 'Judgement At Nuremberg' Latest At The Midnight Company
The film version of “Judgment At Nuremberg” was nominated for eleven Oscars and won two- one for Maximilian Schell as the defense attorney and one for adapted screenplay for Abby Mann. She had earlier written the play for the old Playhouse 90 television show and then revised the script for this stage version. It made courtroom drama popular which inspired “Perry Mason” and the slew of such shows we’ve had since. This one from The Midnight Company is a stellar production with excellent visual effects to enhance the proceedings.
Joe Hanrahan, Artistic Director of Midnight, plays Judge Dan Haywood, the lead judge who, along with two others, must decide the fate of three men involved in the Third Reich and their participation in Nazi war crimes. With a laid back and keen eye for the facts, Mr. Hanrahan dissects the evidence and comes to his own conclusions while one of the other two judges balks at his findings. It’s a complicated case which must be weighed for the merits of their actions at the time and what they knew about the atrocities involving concentration camps and the horrific things that went on there. His final confrontation in the judges’ chambers and the outcome of the trial of the three men (judges in their own right at the time) are powerful stuff.
The other judges are played by Jack Corey and Charles Heuvelman while the three on trial are played by the brilliant Steve Callahan, Terry TenBroek and Hal Morgan. Charlotte Dougherty is superb as the landlady to Judge Haywood for his stay in Nuremberg, Mrs. Habelstadt and a bravura performance from Rachel Tibbets as Frau Margarete Bertholt who the judge displaced in the apartment. She becomes the tour guide and close companion of the judge during his stay in Germany.
Other characters including witnesses and military personnel include fine work by Francesca Ferrari and Jaz Tucker along with Mark Abels, Steve Garrett, Michael B. Perkins and Alex Fyles.
Ellie Schwetye has directed with a strong knowledge of the time and importance of the material. She moves things along and keeps the two hour (with one intermission) play gripping and tense. The Jonah Sheckler set design is functional but the video design of Michael B. Perkins makes the difference with a steady set of slides and film projected on the background to put us in the place whether it be the courtroom, the ruins of Nuremberg, the horrors of the concentration camps or other sites around the area. Bess Moynihan’s lights are just about perfect and the appropriate costumes of Sarah Porter complete the look that keeps the play riveted in the time period. A shout out to Pamela Reckamp as well for her excellent work in keeping the actors on point with their dialects.
It’s hard to direct a cast this large in such an important work. Although some of the acting was a bit sketchy, the power of the story comes through in a production worthy of your time. It’s a reminder in these days when where we’re seeing stories on social media about millennials who have no idea what a concentration camp was that we can never forget.
St Louis Post-Dispatch
Judgement At Nuremberg
by Judith Newmark
April 28, 2018
Vivid performances from an exceptionally large cast distinguish the Midnight Company’s absorbing production of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Abby Mann’s drama about individual and collective guilt. Under the direction of Ellie Schwetye, the play brings more nuance than you might expect to its fact-based story.
Mann sets his courtroom drama in 1947. By this time, the surviving Nazi leaders had been tried and executed. The men on trial at this point were merely civil judges. But their cooperation had enabled the torture and murder of more people than even the impassioned American prosecutor, played by Chuck Winning, dares to guess. Winning and Cassidy Flynn, as the brilliant young German attorney for the defense, give powerful performances in both courtroom scenes and others. More memorable portrayals come from Steve Callahan as a distinguished German jurist facing judgment, Rachel Tibbetts as an attractive German widow and Michael B. Perkins and Francesca Ferrari as two witnesses who were punished terribly, though “legally,” under the Nazi regime. Joe Hanrahan, as one of the judges on the American tribunal, is our thoughtful, kindly guide. Smart, modest and genuinely trying to figure out what went wrong, Hanahan’s Judge Haywood carries the weight of history seriously. Prior to the Nuremberg trials, there was no such thing as a court to judge “crimes against humanity”. Hanrahan’s unassuming performance reveals a man determined to get it right, balancing the actions of ordinary people under hideous circumstances against the reaches of law. The former gives him more concern. “As far as I can see,” he tells the widow in frustration, “nobody here knew anything". She says that the only way to live on is to forget. Hanrahan’s judge embodies Mann’s point: We must remember.
The theater at the Missouri History Museum is actually more of an auditorium, which unfortunately plays right into Mann’s one weakness. If we were at a lecture on the Nuremberg trials (which the play now and then threatens to become), this hall would be ideal. As it is, the production values barely deserve that name. Ill-fitting costumes look sloppy; the sets boil down to random chairs and tables. Lighting designer Bess Moynihan strives valiantly to distinguish different locales. But when the effort to establish an “office” also reveals the auditorium’s big doors, blank walls and “exit” signs, the illusion dissolves. Actor Perkins also designed the projections, which are helpful but should carry a trigger warning: Films of Nazi atrocities are included, along with maps and images of the old German city. Lee Patton Chiles’ old Historyonics troupe, which performed in the same space, was a readers’ theater. The actors often stood behind music stands, keeping the focus on words and performance, not other theater arts. That might have been a helpful approach for “Judgment at Nuremberg,” a play in which thoughtful actors tell a powerful, well-scripted and all too resonant story. We don’t need more than that.
St. Louis Limelight
'Judgement At Nuremberg' Brings Nuance to History
by Bradley Rohlf
May 2, 2018
“Judgment at Nuremberg” by Abby Mann goes beyond the scope of a typical courtroom drama. In a search for justice, characters ask who is ultimately held responsible for wartime atrocities, but also seek to understand how this all could happen.The play, produced by the Midnight Company at the Missouri History Museum for six performances, dramatizes the latter wave of post-war trials, specifically the cases of several judges that served the Third Reich and enforced Hitler’s race laws.
Shortly after World War II concluded, the Allied forces organized a military tribunal to try some of the highest ranking Nazi officials for war crimes. After those trials concluded, the United States military continued to try officials further down the chain of command for their responsibility in contributing to crimes against humanity. While the story is fictionalized, the composite characters and heightened relationships still feel plausible. This is the final military tribunal in 1947, trying three German judges when the pressures of the new Cold War were mounting in Europe.
Director Ellie Schwetye drives a character-focused production. Jonah Sheckler’s set, coupled with Michael B. Perkins’ video design, efficiently set time and place without overwhelming the eye. This allowed the conversations between characters highlighted, brought to life with the aid of realistic costumes by Sarah Porter, and dialect coaching by Pamela Reckamp. The scenes felt like echoes of the past whose weight and importance reverberated all the way to our stage.
Joe Hanrahan played Judge Dan Haywood. While he was not the tribunal’s first choice, many other justices had declined the invitation due to the waning popularity of these trials. Haywood, however, felt a sense of duty to serve. The primary focus of this court session is the case of Ernst Janning, played by Steve Callahan. Janning is an internationally renowned legal mind, but continued to serve as a judicial authority in Germany when the Nazis came to power. The prosecution, Colonel Tad Parker, played by Chuck Winning, asserts that by upholding Nazi laws, Janning is complicit in their crimes against humanity.
Cassidy Flynn was arresting as Oscar Rolfe, the German defense lawyer. Flynn embodied a young, ambitious legal mind, dedicated not only to the defense of his clients, but the exoneration of the German people. His character was passionate about restoring his nation’s public image, and he felt the country as a whole was symbolically on trial.
Francesca Ferrari and Michael B. Perkins stand out in their cameo roles as key witnesses, Maria Wallner and Rudolph Peterson, respectively.
A side plot to the courtroom drama involves Judge Haywood’s lodging accommodations for the duration of the trial. He has been provided use of a house in town, the former residence of Frau Margarete Bertholt, played by Rachel Tibbetts. The two end up interacting, and we find out that Bertholt is the widow of a German general, tried and executed by the earlier tribunal. She desperately wants to show that not all Germans are Nazis, and she believes there is a distinct separation between those involved in the military and government, and those at the top who secretly orchestrated the camps.
A quick survey history course paints the war in dichotomies. Villains and heroes. Axis and Allied. Nazi and non-Nazi. We hold up stories like Anne Frank and Oskar Schindler — as we should — as examples of heroic resistance. But when we only look at history through the lens of the most exciting narratives, our view becomes polarized. We forget that there are stories of mundane humanity adjacent to those extremes.
Is it more frightening that Flynn’s performance as the defense had me thinking, you know, he makes some good points, or the fact that ordinary people could be caught up in a political system that legalizes discrimination? And are those individuals complicit in their silence? Or even in their ignorance? Does duty to country supersede duty to justice? And what is the measure of justice?
To a history in which we know all the answers, “Judgment at Nuremberg” brings more questions.
St Louis Theatre Snob
Judgement At Nuremberg
May 3, 2018
Between 1945 and 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany, prominent Nazi officers were brought to account by the Allied Forces for war crimes after World War II. Abby Mann’s fictionalized account focuses on the 1947 Judges' Trial, one of a string of military tribunals that took place after the major players had been convicted. Adapted from his 1959 teleplay, Mann is able to find the grays in-between the black and white atrocities that took place after the Nazi’s rise. Under the direction of Ellie Schwetye, The Midnight Company’s staging last week at the Missouri History Museum offered not only some strong performances, but also a brutal look at the underside of love of country and the consequences of compliance. And a shock of relevance.
Judge Dan Haywood, played with homespun charm by Joe Hanrahan, wasn’t the tribunal’s first choice for presiding judge. But after a lost re-election bid in North Carolina and the death of his wife, this district court judge found himself in Nuremberg with two other American judges, hearing testimony from key witnesses in the trial of three German judges -- complicit in allowing the law to become bent to serve the Third Reich.
The prosecuting attorney, Colonel Tad Parker (a ferocious Chuck Winning), can barely contain the disgust he feels for the German judges. Defense attorney, Oscar Rolfe (an ardent, curt Cassidy Flynn), valiantly tries to make the case for a patriotic stance against integration, and that if the German judges are guilty, so are the nations that make up the Allied Forces for turning a blind eye.
While in Germany, Judge Haywood is staying in the grand house that used to belong to Frau Margarete Bertholt (Rachel Tibbetts), a German officer’s widow. Soft-spoken and dignified, she insists she knew nothing of the Reich’s barbarity, even as Hitler’s chokehold on the country tightened. Tibbetts does some fine work as Bertholt, who seems like she’s still trying to make sense of what happened in her country, but ruffled and defensive when her late husband’s honor is called into question. Francesca Ferrari is Maria Wallner, a witness whose Jewish friend was killed after they became intimate, and Michael B. Perkins is Rudolph Peterson, who gives harrowing testimony about his forced sterilization. Poignant conversations between the judge and Bertholt, set against chilling witness testimony, illustrate the unsettling truth of how small consents pave the way for ghastly successions.
In addition to these unwavering performances, Steve Callahan does a wonderful job as Ernst Janning, the most prominent of the German judges -- so defiant that he doesn’t even speak to the court to enter a plea, refusing to acknowledge the authority of the tribunal. Later, in an impressive turn, he takes the stand and expresses his heartfelt remorse, hoping to annul his guilt.
Schwetye kept the play focused and moving at a good clip, despite an array of views from several sides, in an impactful evening of terrific theatre.
Snoops Theatre Thoughts
Midnight Company's "Judgement At Nuremberg" Makes a Memorable impression at the Missouri History Museum
by Michelle Kenyon
May 5, 2018
Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company usually puts on plays with small casts–often just Hanrahan himself and maybe one other cast member. The company’s latest production, though, is anything but small. Presented at the Missouri History Museum from April 25-29th, Abby Mann’s Judgment at Nuremberg recalls an important time in world history that is essential to remember. With a large cast and excellent staging, this production is one I wish had been given a longer run.
The play is a fictionalized version of one of the historic Nuremberg Trials that took place in Germany after World War II. Various defendents involved in different ways in the Nazi regime and the Holocaust were put on trial, with those convicted being sentenced to prison or death. The trial represented in this play involves three German judges (Terry TenBroek as Emil Hahn, Hal Morgan as Frederick Hoffstetter, and Steve Callahan as Ernst Janning), who are charged with playing various roles in supporting the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi government from the bench, including ordering sterilizations of political dissidents and sending Jewish defendants and others to concentration camps. The cast of 16 is led by Hanrahan as Judge Dan Haywood, a North Carolina jurist who has been brought in to preside over the trial along with Judge Curtis Ives (Jack Corey) and Judge Ken Norris (Charles Heuvelman). The story centers largely on Haywood as he learns about the cases and defendants and other issues involved, such as international and national pressures trying to influence the outcome. Other key players include the passionate American prosecutor Colonel Tad Parker (Chuck Winning) and determined German defense attorney Oscar Rolfe (Cassidy Flynn). There’s also Frau Margarete Bertholt (Rachel Tibbetts), a widow who used to live in the house in which Haywood is staying, and who is soon revealed to have a highly personal connection to the trials. Through the course of the play, issues of personal and corporate responsibility, and national loyalty vs. conscience are raised, among other issues, as the German judges are brought face-to-face with witnesses to their actions and reacting in different ways, from self-justification to acknowledging guilt.
This is a somewhat sprawling play, with a lot going on at once and a large cast to keep track of. Structure-wise, it’s reminscent of a lot of other mid-century courtroom dramas, and the play’s program design (graphic design by Dottie Quick) even has a look and style suggestive of this time period. The drama has a lot of players, but the focus is mostly on the courtroom, and the staging here is engaging and energetic, with a cast of excellent performers that bring dimension and energy to their roles. Hanrahan is a good focus figure as Heywood, who functions in many ways as a surrogate for the audience, learning about the events and the people involved, and the history of the city of Nuremberg itself, as the story unfolds. Hanrahan’s Haywood has a kind of easy forthrightness about him that works very well in this role. He is surrounded by an excellent cast as well, including Callahan as the most introspective and remorseful of the defendents, Janning; and also Winning and Flynn as the equally fiery and determined opposing attorneys. There are also excellent turns from Tibbetts as the proud, grieving and somewhat enigmatic Frau Berthtolt, and Micahel B. Perkins, Francesca Ferrari, and Steve Garrett as key witnesses in the trial. The entire ensemble (also including Mark Abels, Jaz Tucker, Charlotte Dougherty, and Alex Fyles) is strong, with memorable performances all around, calling attention to the important and weighty issues brought up in this play–issues that are still relevant today.
The production design serves the play well, with Jonah Sheckler’s fairly simple set impressively augmented by Michael B. Perkins’s excellent video projections. There’s also crisp, focused lighting from Bess Moynihan as well as clear sound by Ellie Schwetye and well-suited period specific costumes by Sarah Porter. The overall atmosphere of a 1940’s military trial is well maintained in this fascinating production.
This is a show that could have run a little longer. I’m assuming the Missouri History Museum had limited availability, but it’s a shame that such a well-staged, powerful production like this couldn’t have had more performances. A production like this deserves to be seen by a larger audience.