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The Accomplices: Seeking Sanctuary

The journalistic skills of first-time playwright Bernard Weinraub are put to good use in The Accomplices, his drama of Jewish activist Peter Bergson who came to America in 1940 with a mission to convince the United States to help stop the systematic extermination of his people.  The longtime reporter for The New York Times tells a complex story of politics versus humanity with terse, information-packed scenes that can shock contemporary audiences who have the advantage of knowing what's to come.

The play begins with Peter Bergson (Daniel Sauli) arriving in America from Palistine with the intention of building a Jewish army to crush the Nazis.  His temporary quarters are with fellow, dark-humored radical Samuel Merlin (Andrew Polk) and there's a slight romantic subplot concerning Bergson and a dancer named Betty (Zoe Lister-Jones), who is not only pretty but has that certain thing every revolutionary longs for… a typewriter.

But Weinraub and director Ian Morgan don't linger on any one location very long and Beowulf Boritt's versatile unit set, under Jeff Croiter's location-specific lighting quickly darts us back and forth to scenes with such notables as President Roosevelt (Jon DeVries), Broadway and Hollywood writer Ben Hecht (DeVries again) and Rabbi Stephen Wise (David Margulies), chairman of the World Jewish Congress.

Under the advisement of State Department assistant Breckenridge Long (Robert Hogan), Roosevelt resists opening U.S. ports to Jewish refugees as the nation's disapproval of immigration increases along with any involvement with European affairs.  ("Can you assure us that the German's aren't posing as Jews?" asks Long.)

Rabbi Wise's call for patience and selective rescue missions, believing that Americans would never support what they would perceive as a Jewish war ("Let FDR fight the war his way.") lead Bergson to Ben Hecht, who is determined to stir up support from "all the frightened little Yids that run Hollywood."

Morgan's tight ensemble cast never lets the evening drag, despite a text that crams in all the history that's fit to print.  Sauli's Bergson is full of youthful guts and an unconquerable spirit and the always-terrific Marguiles gives Wise a sense of old-world nobility and gentle craftiness.  If the play has a major flaw it's that Weinraub doesn't show us a human side of FDR and Long that doesn't go beyond politics and cronyism.  We get a touch of that from Catherine Curtin as Long's secretary who begins regretting her association as she sees how the game is played.

Although the characters are written in broad strokes and sometimes seem to be quoting textbooks instead of partaking in natural dialogue, the swift, plot-driven evening is smart and provacative.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Top:  Andrew Polk,
Daniel Sauli and Zoe Lister-Jones
Bottom:  David Margulies and
Daniel Sauli

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From This Author Michael Dale