Simplifying the Unsimplifiable

A sadly unhuman Stalag 17

Kicking Hitler's ass was never as glamorous as it looked on film—thanks for nothing, John Wayne, Clark Gable and Walter Pidgeon. In reality, the star-spangled side had plenty of bad moments: Iwo Jima, Omaha Beach and Bergen-Belsen, to name but a few.

Theater, which rarely picks the favorite, knows this, and that might be why the best, and most produced, World War II-ish play is All My Sons,Arthur Miller's condemnatory look at the moral fallout of war profiteering, rather than Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski's simplistically rendered World War II POW play, Stalag 17. A far less complex and interesting work than the 1953 film it inspired, this is a play in which the Americans are painted as ultimately decent and noble, if flawed, and their German captors are a too-obvious mix of blundering dolts and evil manipulators. It might work as a TV sitcom, but the lack of depth, dramatic tension and characterization makes for tough viewing, and this Maverick Theater production does little to overcome the script's inherent flimsiness.

The cast does an adequate job of telling its story—even if most seem remarkably well-fed and -laundered for being prisoners of war. Nick Boicourt, as the play's fulcrum, is particularly good, managing to flesh out a human dimension that few of the other actors mine from the worn-out script.

But this production doesn't seem all that interested in human connection anyway, what with the auditory bombast that director Brian Newell dishes out with his cinematic, beat-the-listener-in-the-eardrums underscoring. Music seems to surface at every key plot twist, and it reeks of the unsubtle, here's-what-you-should-be-feeling-at-every-turn mentality that plagues film.

Theater always roots for the underdog, or at least gestures toward it. It's why so many plays are about losers, reprobates and other assorted rabble who finally get their day to wax rhapsodic. For a play like Stalag 17—in which everyone knows who the good and bad guys are—to work as drama takes a concerted effort to connect with the human dynamic at its heart. This production seems mostly unconcerned with emotional reality, and the result is a play in which the characters, tone and theme feel as manufactured and transitory as the set they occur upon.

STALAG 17, MAVERICK THEATER, 110 E. WALNUT AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-7070. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 4 P.M. THROUGH DEC. 23. $13-$16.

 
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