In the mid-'60s, roughly two decades after the end of World War II, there were a number of plays and movies that attempted to come to grips with various aspects of the actions of Nazi Germany.
There was "Judgment at Nuremberg," a historical epic of the trial of Nazi officials, the extreme personal look at the Holocaust in "The Pawn Broker" and "Incident at Vichy," Arthur Miller's tense study of a group of men awaiting their fate while held by Nazis in a room in southern France.
That one opens Oct. 19 in Danville's Village Theatre. The Role Players Ensemble production, directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes, is Miller's peripheral take on how a French government survived in the area "basically by kowtowing to German regulations," to the point of turning people over to the Nazis to whatever end they saw fit.
"I like a mystery thriller and, with a little history thrown in, even better," said Hayes. "The men thrown into the room during the early middle of the war had heard the rumors of what the Nazis were doing, but they were just on the cusp and had no confirmation of it."
So there they are, a random group that includes a painter, an actor who figures he'll act his way out of the situation, a businessman, a communist/socialist, a gypsy who was on Hitler's undesirable list and a boy who has no idea why he was brought to the room by French officials acting on the Germans' behest.
"It becomes a very suspenseful struggle as the instinct to survive is really strong in all of the characters and they find themselves playing a game about why they won't be chosen," says Hayes. "I've done something similar myself, say, when I read about someone who died and I look for an exemption like, 'Oh, he smoked. I don't smoke.' "
But as the incident plays out, only one of the men emerges from the interrogation room with a pass to the outside world, the rest are never seen and their fate is unknown but assumed dire.
"I know I've overheard audience members talking in the lobby about how one show or another isn't going to have a happy ending," Hayes said, fully aware of that being what patrons want, "and I know the Holocaust is not a happy subject, but Miller does give a ray of hope at the end in a way that is a surprise to both the characters and the audience."
He grinned, revealing no more, and talked about the author, rather than the tale.
"The quality of the writing and quality of the characters certainly make it feel like a Miller play, but the situation doesn't," he said. "I've told my actors this is a dream play for them because every character is facing life-or-death stakes, even the authority figures."
"Incident at Vichy," a rarely-done Miller work, has started getting a lot of revivals just this year, so it may become a much better-known work by the author, who is regarded as one of America's all-time best playwrights, with shows like "Death of a Salesman," "All My Sons," "A View From the Bridge," "The Crucible" and "After the Fall."
The show plays Oct. 19 through Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, in the theater at 233 Front St. in Danville. Tickets, at $20 to $28, may be reserved at 925-314-3400 or www.villagetheatreshows.com.
COMEDY AT THE FIREHOUSE: Comedians Greg Hahn and Marianne Sierk appear Oct. 10 in the Firehouse Arts Center at 444 Railroad Ave. in Pleasanton. Hahn, the headliner, has appeared on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," Comedy Central, CBS, ABC, FOX, MTV and CMT, as well as clubs throughout the country.
Comedy is Hahn's second career. He served as a Marine Corps captain and buyer for Lockheed before beginning his trek down the road to comedy.
Opening act Sierk became a comic after realizing her dream of starring in the theater wasn't going to work out. So she found success in comedy as well as commercials and commentator gigs on such shows at NBC's "Comics Unleashed," the BBC's "The World Stands Up" and Comedy Central's "Live at Gotham."
Contact Pat Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.