Spotlight: The Action Against Sol Schumann

Sarah Whiting

Most agree that forgiveness is a fine thing, but it has its limits. The Action Against Sol Schumann, staged here in a regional premiere by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, repeatedly moves the goal posts of exculpation. The action, so to speak, begins in Brooklyn, where Sol (Wayne Morton), an Orthodox concentration camp survivor, crafts a textile to display at his synagogue, commemorating his family. (He's the only survivor from the old country.) The act seems poignant enough, until a fellow survivor recognizes his name as that of a capo from the camps—a Jewish collaborator who supervised his fellow prisoners in return for some degree of privilege. His two sons are appropriately shocked: Aaron (Brian Columbus), who wears his Jewish identity, and historical anger, as the core of his identity; and Michael (Matthew Vire), who has rather unapologetically assimilated. Sol cops to his past right away, and the U.S. government initiates legal proceedings to strip him of his citizenship. Jeffrey Sweet's script holds its ideas up to the light in order to ponder their every facet, but his characters struggle to emerge as more than types. Despite the playwright's tendency to break up the action into short, punchy segments, some of his dialogue borders on the generic and pedantic. (There are stretches here that I would defy any actor to make compelling.) Still, Carolyn Levy's purposeful direction and a strong cast generate some emotional steam. Morton evinces a desperate need for understanding, and his interplay with his sons elicits sympathy. And while we're at first discomfited by the prospect of what we might be capable of under duress, Sweet demands we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who took the next step and emulated the cruelty of his captors. The ruinous end will leave a fair number of viewers short of breath. While the line-by-line dialogue struggles to rise above the mundane, the ideas it depicts bore into the depths of how we construct our identities, as well as the stories we tell ourselves in order to keep our own drama going.

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