By Eric McCrea
The darkest time in history is shown in a new light in the world premiere of Mark Milo Kessler’s “Tribunal” at Bliss Hall’s Spotlight Theater on the Youngstown State University campus. This emotionally gripping and intense play is set in Nuremberg, Germany, immediately after the end of World War II. It focuses on the some of the most evil causes of the Holocaust.
The story follows the lives of Arthur “Izzy” Borovitz, played by Mark Warchol, and Hannelore Schneider, played by Carly Magnuson. Izzy is a survivor with notable language skills who signs up to work as a translator during the war-crimes trials. He meets a desperate, diehard National Socialist, Hannelore, whose pride in her purity and devotion to the cause gives the sense that she’s almost been brainwashed. Throughout the first act, there is a deep feeling of “where is this going?”
There is a sense that a romance may be blooming between Arthur and Hannelore, and given the subject matter, it feels perverse. But the second act explodes with gut-wrenching scenes that destroy any notion that this show has a twisted Romeo and Juliet tale.
Director Tracy Schuler-Vivo creatively uses sound and lighting effects to draw the audience in from the very beginning. Her cast of students delivers powerful performances. Some members of the cast, playing multiple roles, cascade from character to character so convincingly, you can only believe they’re the same person because the program tells you so. Matthew Malloy as a novice death-camp worker is the embodiment of fear, then as a fugitive Jew, a model of strength. Zara Markman, playing six roles, is most remembered for playing Trudi, a young girl destroyed inside and out by propaganda and violence. Natalie Martzial is the girl you hate as Hannelore’s diehard mother, and love as American legal secretary Sally. Eric Shonk blends in the tapestry of the show, until he explodes as Max, a truly standout performance.
Lieutenant Richard Parkman, played by Connor Bezeredi, is a beacon of justice and hope, who faces his own internal challenges with humility. Bezeredi gives a subtle performance, but is perhaps the most nuanced, with his thick southern accent and diverse range. He begins as a good ole boy, almost in a cheesy way, but redeems himself showing that an understated performance can often be a great one.
The show’s two lead actors, Warchol and Magnuson, carry the heaviest weight in this show. Portraying the dynamic between Izzy and Hannelore was no easy task, but they pull it off flawlessly. Magnuson is despisable at almost every turn, a bold choice for any actor. Izzy is the personification of survival, moving forward in spite of the heavy burden dragging him down, and Warchol eases into the role so convincingly, it’s easy to forget he was ever a victim. In whole, the cast is commendable. Schuler-Vivo and Kessler should both be very proud.
After seeing this show, there is a sense of hope that there can be change, that we can learn to prevent such things from happening again, that justice prevails and that the world can be a beautiful place.
“Tribunal” runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and today and next Sunday at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 330-941-3105.