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BWW Review: Cesear's Forum's THE INVESTIGATION is an Excruciating Personal Experience

Roy Berko

Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle

As the actors lined up for the curtain call of Cesear's Forum's THE INVESTIGATION, Peter Weiss's play about the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963-65, I was on an emotional trip far, far way.

The summer of 1959 found me in England, the Scandinavian countries, Russia, and Poland on an international exchange program. On July 29, based on the request I had made, our white Volkswagen bus, with its ten passengers, pulled into the city square in Lomza, Poland. Lomza, Poland, the "shtetl" in which my mother, had been born, and she, her mother, her aunt and uncles, and my great-grandparents had left in 1908. My grandfather fled from the army in 1904, had come to America, made enough money to bring over his child, wife and in-laws. Left behind was his extensive Orthodox Jewish family.

By some act of serendipity, Paul, my interpreter, found a man whose father had been the caretaker for my grandfather's family. The man took us to the place where the family home, the yeshiva (a training school for rabbis which had been founded by my great-uncle), and the synagogue had stood before the war. He related that a few of the family had left for the United States before the wars, another small group had left for Israel, but the majority had been "taken away."

Several hours later I was at Auschwitz. The concentration camp had not yet been "sanitized" and made to look like a museum, as it did 20 years later when I returned. It still smelled of burned bodies, the barracks had not been painted to make them look like summer camp dorms, and the hair, shoes, and suitcases of the dead had not yet been placed into their air tight storage chambers.

I walked through a corridor emblazoned with the names of the cities, towns, and "shtetls" from which the Jews, Gypsies, Gays and political prisoners had been brought to this place of murder. There, clearly etched, was the title, "Lomza." Below were lists of names of those who had been murdered at this horrible place. All of a sudden, the words, "they had been taken away" struck horrible reality. (Many years later, after an extensive search, I ascertained that well over 100 of my relatives were victims of the Nazi cleansing.)

As I sat in my seat at the conclusion of THE INVESTIGATION, even though the actors (Tricia Bestic, Brian Bowers, Zach Griffin, Michael Johnson, John Kolibab, Michel Regnier, Jeanne Task, Valerie Young and Lee Mackey) deserved my accolades, I could not applaud. How do you applaud the deeds of liars, murders and inhumanity? I was emotionally drained.

As for this review, I could comment on the overly long script, the distracting movement of chairs, the inappropriate attempts at humor by the pre-performance cleaner of the stage and comments he made which were off-setting for the mood and intent of this script, and the meaningless and ridiculous singing act, insulting to the memory of the dead, which also preceded the actual play. But, in reality, though off-setting, none of these are totally relevant.

I could praise Max Bruno the superb violinist who played inter-scene musical bridges, and the "chutzpa" (courage) of Greg Cesear in picking a script of a story that must be told, but is so upsetting that it may not attract large audiences.

What is most relevant to me is that the audience, the night I saw the show, was populated by a large contingent of high school-aged students. If they learned of the horrors of the Holocaust, then it was worth my personal angst. If the people in the fourteen West and East German cities where the play was premiered in October of 1965 learned of the horror they and their countrymen had participated in and swore to never do such deeds again, then the play achieved its purpose. If Holocaust deniers and those who are not fully aware of the horrors that were perpetuated see the show, then that, too, would make the writer, the cast, and the director's time worth while.

Capsule judgement: My ride home after Cesear's Forum's THE INVESTIGATION was done in silence. I sit here now, trying to write a review, with welled eyes. Oh, the inhumanity of man.

For tickets to THE INVESTIGATION, through November 14 in Kennedy's Down Under, call 216-241-6000 or www.playhousesquare.org The theatre is entered from the lobby of the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.


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