Judgment at Nuremburg at Throughline | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Judgment at Nuremburg at Throughline

The play remains painfully relevant

Everett Lowe in Judgment at Nuremburg, at Throughline Theatre
Everett Lowe in Judgment at Nuremburg, at Throughline Theatre
In an age of assassination-by-drone, government-sanctioned torture and the “collateral damage” that ensues, Abby Mann’s 2001 play Judgment at Nuremberg remains painfully relevant. But Throughline Theatre Co. artistic director Liam Macik seems positively psychic in scheduling the World War II war-crimes drama, given the current political campaign against an independent judiciary and increasing discussion of our own “Weimar Moment.”

Mann (who grew up in East Pittsburgh) re-worked his famous 1961 film for a new audience facing many of the same challenges as his characters. Indeed, the prelude recounts then-President Clinton’s recent signing of the Rome Treaty for an International Court and the political backlash by U.S. officials who feared that their own military could stand in the dock.

Macik, who directs, has multicast this huge play, inspired by the tribunal known as the Judges’ Trial of 1947, with varying success: a dozen actors in 20 roles. Most amazing is Jesse Wray Goodman, completely credible as the leading lady (a.k.a. “the Marlene Dietrich role”), a pugnacious defendant and a pragmatic general. Katie Trupiano morphs from soft-spoken defendant to mean-spirited servant. Michael McBurney stops the show as an outraged victim testifying against Nazi eugenic laws, in between turns as a tongue-tied defendant and a compromised professional.

But Nuremberg pivots on three key characters: the most illustrious of the German defendants, Ernst Janning (Everett Lowe), his indefatigable defense counsel (Amy Portenlanger) and the head judge of the American tribunal (Eric Leslie). Portenlanger shows a fierce cunning as the advocate for an international portion of the guilt that the defendants hold. Leslie embodies the wise man from a small town struggling to understand the maelstrom he is presiding over, and to set aside “patriotism” for at least a semblance of justice. Steely-eyed Lowe remains an enigma until the climactic revelatory monologue and a final, memorable scene with Leslie.

Also notable are Kevin H. Moore as the narrator and the judge’s aide; and Tom Mirth as the wrathful persecutor.

The staging is an intimate as one can be, without the actors actually sitting in your lap. The images from the Holocaust will stay in your mind.

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