By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Mark Milo Kessler has long been interested in the Nuremburg Trials, the military tribunal conducted by the Allies after World War II to prosecute the leaders of Nazi Germany.
The Youngstown native had been kicking around the Nuremburg idea for 25 years but couldn’t get his thoughts to coalesce into a drama.
That changed about two years ago when the characters and scenes started coming to him.
The result is “Tribunal,” a new play that will get its world premiere this weekend at Youngstown State University Theater. It opens Friday and runs for two weekends.
Kessler, who is a professor of English and literature at Washington State Community College in Marietta, will return to his alma mater for the final performance Oct. 27, and will take part in a post-show reception and discussion.
“One of the things that got me started on the play was a conversation about 9/11,” said Kessler in a phone interview. “Someone said, ‘How could anybody hate that much?’ And I said, ‘It wasn’t about hate. They just thought they were right.’ The Nazis also thought they were right.”
At the core of “Tribunal” is the notion of ideology triumphing over rationality. “Nazism is the most striking example of that, and it had disastrous results,” said Kessler. “There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from that period.”
In his play, the Boardman native, who has a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University, examines the many facets of justice and exactly what constitutes it.
The main character is Hannelore Schneider, a Nazi who is actively committed to the ideology. Kessler stressed that Schneider is not a real person, but a composite character that evolved from his research.
“As far as the story being true ... it’s not a documentary,” said Kessler.
With her defeated leaders on trial, Schneider struggles to escape postwar Nuremberg for a Nazi safe haven in South America. She meets a translator for the trial, and his kindness forces her to confront the consequences of her unquestioned ideology. Yet the true horror doesn’t emerge until years later, when it becomes clear to Schneider that her generation will never face judgment: they shattered worlds and got away with it.
Despite it’s title, “Tribunal” is not a courtroom drama.
“None of the play takes place at the Nuremburg trials,” said Kessler. “The trials are just a backdrop. It jumps around to a lot of locales. Most of the action should be happening in the audience’s imagination.”
Kessler has written many plays and has had at least a half-dozen produced. “Tribunal” is the first play he has written in 10 years, and Kessler also believes that it is his best.
“I am terribly honored that YSU is doing this,” he said.
Scott Ireland, director of the theater and dance department at YSU, selected Tracy Schuler Vivo to direct it.
Vivo is a professional performer, choreographer, dir-ector and producer who has worked in television, film and regional theater. Also a graduate of YSU, she is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Actor’s Equity and owns a production company.
She returned to the area a few years ago and is currently the visual and performing arts coordinator for Youngstown City Schools at the Chaney campus.
The student cast of “Tribunal” includes Mark Warchol, Carly Magnuson, Connor Bezeredi, Matthew Malloy, Cameron Beebe, Eric Shonk, Zara Markman and Natalie Martzial.
Vivo said there is a special excitement to presenting the premiere of a play. She had her cast meet with Kessler as part of its preparation.
She also anticipates that audience members will gain a new perspective on the Holocaust and the balance between ideology and rationality.
“I hope they will analyze themselves as they watch it,” she said.