“Captors” is the best kind of memory play. It’s the kind in which memory is an action—and it’s the kind in which details have palpable moral consequences. At a time when the fall of a powerful war criminal is almost a monthly event, it’s also a deeply resonant history play.
Cohn (Daniel Eric Gold), a nebbishy-looking young writer working on a book, interrogates badass Mossad agent Peter Malkin (Louis Cancelmi), who, 30 years ago in 1960, pulled off an impossible mission. With a small team, he captured a chief architect and enforcer of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, now an old man living under an alias in Argentina, and convinced him, without the use of force, to sign a statement agreeing to stand trial for his crimes in an Israeli court. Cohn narrates the story of Malkin, painstakingly dictating his version how he painstakingly convinced Eichmann that standing trial would be the only way for the high-ranking Nazi to gain control over his story.
Malkin’s greatest skill as a spy, it turns out, is his mastery of disguises. In fact he comes to bond with Eichmann (for strategic purposes) by revealing some of the tricks of physical subterfuge to this pathologically deceptive man. We watch Cohn strive to detect cosmetic tricks in Malkin’s story, and, in dramatized flashbacks, we watch Malkin and Eichmann grapple with the various metaphorical masks each adversary tries on. Designer Beowulf Borritt foregrounds them against warped glass which both reflects and distorts.
If you remember anything about the actual Eichmann trial to which the plot is a prelude, it’s probably that this man who oversaw the systemized slaughter of millions appeared chillingly nonplussed, that he appeared to be a normal, familiar enough looking fellow, who seemed at peace behind the refrain that he was only following orders. The actor Michael Cristofer (himself, an award-winning playwright), does a masterly job both of portraying Eichmann’s vulnerability, his twisted rationalizations and his sociopathic skills of manipulation. Crisofer’s riveting sparring match with the equally compelling Cancelmi demands some daunting questions.
What do we do with the pity we feel when we see an old man, naked, manhandled and terrified, knowing that this man is responsible for the death of millions of complete innocents?
As we watch Malkin struggle to put a redemptive spin on his story, how are we to feel about that chance he and his cohorts gave Eichmann for public redemption? Was this P.R. move on the part of Israel worth it for them? For the sake of history or the insights we may have gained into the psychology of a mass murder? One thinks of the P.R. debacle that was the trial of Saddam Hussein.
For his part, Malkin is repelled by the project he is given, but must resign himself to simply follow his orders. What are we to make of this parallel?
Playwright Evan M. Weiner forces all of the right questions in this, his impressive first work for the stage. Catch “Captors” if you can.