By James Foritano
Boston, MA – The action of Evan M. Weiner’s “Captors” at the Huntington Theatre Company’s B.U. Theatre takes place in May of 1960 somewhere on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The play documents the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents, his imprisonment in a safe house and his eventual transport to Israel for trial.
The main conceit of the play is that agent Malkin is reliving the action in the safe house as he recounts it to the ghost writer of his memoirs, Cohn, 30 years after the Eichmann trial. Cohn, insisting on accuracy from his desk at stage right, often breaks into and freezes the action to question Malkin about the facts. Malkin at first endorses this quest for strict accuracy and then gradually comes to realize that all is not as cut and dried and as clear a history as Cohn and he would like it to be.
Malkin is a fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy, falling into the actions that the moment seems to demand. It is Malkin who effects the capture of Eichmann as he wends his way home on a deserted road by throwing him off his guard with a well-phrased Spanish interrogative that permits Malkin to approach and overpower the wary, practiced fugitive.
And it is Malkin who overcomes Eichmann’s resistance to signing a document that permits his extradition to Israel for trial. Malkin accomplishes this by, again, reacting to the moment, squelching his more violent drives and humoring Eichmann’s wish to be understood, even admired for his character and actions.
It’s finally Malkin’s cunningness and Eichmann’s weakness upon which the drama pivots. Agent Hans is a dutiful but doctrinaire interrogator who cannot change his methods as he repeatedly runs up against Eichmann’s refusal to admit guilt. Uzi, the cool boss, keeps Hans and Malkin separated so that their contrasting temperaments don’t spell disaster for the mission.
This all seems very probable as a recounting of the history behind the trial. The trouble is that it seems too predictable for an audience aware of the many dodges of villainy and the ingenuity necessary to practice on and ensnare that villainy. It’s a biblical injunction that “pride goeth before a fall.” And since that injunction there have been, sad to say, multiple Eichmanns to illustrate criminal pride and, thankfully, a few cunning Malkins to facilitate its fall.
In order to add some moral ambiguity to this age old drama, the play hints that Eichmann consents to sign away his freedom for a trial not solely because his pride and self-absorption are manipulated by Malkin, but also because Eichmann senses an empathetic response from the Israeli agent to his plea of being “just a fellow soldier doing his duty.”
Malkin’s memoirist, Cohn, uses the term “overlap” to characterize this presumed empathy between the two antagonists. But Malkin vigorously rejects this characterization, and it seems that the action of the play bears out Malkin’s rejection.
To this viewer, Malkin’s humanity is touched by Eichmann’s plight, but not moved to see any identity, however fugitive, between his and Eichmann’s actions. An “overlap” between captor and captive would, if it were dramatized, be truly a glimpse deep into that elusive grey area between “good” and “bad.” But in “Captors”, as in so many of our Western ‘horse operas,’ virtue and vice seem ensconced on opposite sides of the street in a contest that is hugely satisfying and nearly true.
(“Captors” continues through December 11, 2011 at the Huntington Company, Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston. Call (617) 266-0800.)