Hip Shot: The Extermination Machine

DC Arts Center (DCAC) 

Remaining performances:
Sunday, July 15, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 19th 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 20, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 21, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 22, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 26, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 27, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 28, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 29, 7:30 p.m.

They say:  Former Nazi Adolf Eichmann is detained in a secret Israeli prison and interrogated about his role in the deportation of millions to the Third Reich death camps. This drama explores the brutal machinations of the Final Solution.

Rachel's take: A frail old man, kidnapped, imprisoned, and facing death, presses into his captor's hand a letter for his five year old son, half a world away with no idea where or if his father is living. It's a poignant moment in The Extermination Machine, a world premiere by SeeNoSun OnStage, with a brutal twist: The prisoner is Adolf Eichmann, genocidal Nazi war criminal. So, fuck that guy. And fuck anything that might bring him peace.

What his interrogator, Avner Less, will do with that letter illuminates the frightening frustration Eichmann posed to the world during his 1960s trial: You have, captured and talking, one of history's biggest monsters. What rational, higher-brain actions can you take to wring any satisfaction from that situation?

In the play and in the hundreds of hours of pre-trial interrogation on which the it is based, Less goes after Eichmann again and again with evidence, dates, and testimony; Eichmann spins it all into the best possible light with claims that he himself was a powerless pawn in Hitler's hands. This means the men end up arguing over how old the people condemned to death marches were, as if Eichmann's insistence they were all over 15 makes any difference at all. Ultimately, what matters most is the letter. Will the interrogation change Less's mind about delivering it?

As the mild-mannered Eichmann, Kim Curtis is extraordinarily ordinary, a small man revealing no hint of how and why, given the opportunity, he devoted himself to efficient systems of murder. In fleeting moments he reveals just a little pride in his abilities to stymie his interrogator. It is Less, not Eichmann, who is burdened with Eichmann's crimes. James Radack's Less doesn't know exactly what he wants from Eichmann, but not getting it continually eats at him. The actors, directed by playwright Michael Wright, are subtle and intense; I resented a couple times having to tear my eyes from one in order to watch the other. Like 2010's SeeNoSun Fringe project, Terre Haute, this show is in its best moments taut and merciless, despite being mostly two men talking.

The Extermination Machine is a ringer in Fringe, with its more-than-absolutely-necessary set pieces, its eight more performances at regular times and its comfy, chilled seats. The underattended performance I saw suggests those things aren't necessarily blessings, since the show is so far from Fort Fringe and has more than five performances, making it less urgent on a lot of lists right now. That's a mistake.

See it if: You're hungry for some Fringe that's less Fringey and more polished.

Skip it if:  You're hoping one of the characters will turn out to be a singing zombie or something.

DISCLOSURE: The author appears as an actor in The Cloudism Project in this year's Capital Fringe Festival.

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  • Teddy Ostrow

    Disclosure: Kim Curtis is a friend of mine and I helped him learn his lines and the accent.

    The director, who is also the playwright, kept making script changes very late into rehearsals. This doesn't seem to have been a good use of available time, since the play goes in circles. "You're evil!" "I knew nothink." "I have a file to prove you knew xyz." "Ach, perhaps." Stage goes dark. "Hitler was evil!" "I vas only following orders." Stage goes dark. Repeat until time for Eichmann's trial. No change ever occurs in the relationship between the two characters. And BTW, that bit with the letter to Eichmann's family was something the actors thought up. They were trying to do what actors are supposed to do.

    The friend who came with me had a glass of wine and fell asleep.