In 1943 Munich, a small group of college students calling themselves The White Rose risked their lives to distribute leaflets condemning the actions of the Nazis during World War II. In 1991, playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag wrote a dramatic play of the same name, now playing through November 16 at Colonial Players.
The heart of the production is the tug of war between student Sophie Scholl (Devin Thrasher) and Robert Mohr (Joe Mariano), the Gestapo specialist responsible for interrogating Scholl about the movement. In the play, Mohr takes an interest in Scholl, perhaps because he has a daughter her age, and tries to convince her to sign a confession that might send her to prison and avoid sure execution for her beliefs.
The back and forth between them is a highlight of this production, which is nicely directed by Alex Brady. Brady also co-designed the excellent split set, with one end of the stage Mohr’s office, and the other end various meeting places for the students as well as an interrogation room.
Thrasher’s interpretation of Scholl is well-realized, with the depth of her character’s feelings about Nazi atrocities often turning into pointed attacks on the bureaucratic Mohr’s inability to care about more than doing his job and keeping a low profile.
Mariano, indeed, starts playing Mohr as just such a bureaucrat not wanting to raise his profile and not seeing how the writings of a few students should be taken seriously by the Gestapo. But Mohr’s increasing discomfort with the unyielding demands of Nazi headquarters in Berlin lead him to emotional confrontations with Scholl. He tries to convince her to separate herself from her student-brother Hans (Nicholas Martinez), who refuses to confess. He does so to the disapproval of Anton Mahler, personified with frightening directness and heartlessness by Matt Leyendecker as the imposing Nazi representative who works alongside Mohr.
Also refusing to confess are students Alexander Schmorell (Sam Morton), Wilhelm Graf (Hadlee Walker) and Christopher Probst (Tyler Heroux). The students have some good moments, their passion evident in their characterizations. But Garrett-Groag’s words are often marred. Director Brady wisely does not ask German accents of his charges, yet in too many cases lines are lost due to muddy diction and soft volume. I also was disappointed at the lack of gravitas displayed in some scenes by the students. For example, with bombs dropping and sound and light effects to match, cheekiness seems to substitute for bravery. Likewise, when he is being interrogated by the dangerous Mahler, Schmorell is flippant and sarcastic when the scene calls for confrontation and bravado.
The actors aren’t helped by the wordiness of Garrett-Groag’s script, which is mostly very good, often funny and pointed, but also about 20 minutes too long. That’s no fault of the production; Brady keeps the pace moving, and scene changes are nicely choreographed.
The production is also helped by excellent technical work. Ernie Morton’s lighting design and Bill Reinhardt’s sound design work together well, especially in frightening bombing scenes. Reinhardt’s deep clanging of prison doors is not just loud, but visceral. You almost feel you may not be able to leave the theater, it’s so real. Likewise, costumes by Carrie Brady are perfect, and the effectiveness of Maureen Mitchell’s props is exemplified by the realistic copier the students use to duplicate tracts.
The White Rose is an evocative, nicely staged reminder of what it means to stand up for one’s beliefs, even in the face of death. The ending will leave you, maybe not smiling, but at least optimistic.
About two hours 40 minutes with one intermission. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm, thru Nov. 16, The Colonial Players, Annapolis, $23 w/discounts, rsvp: www.tickets.thecolonialplayers.org