Directed by Kevin O’Rourke
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Recent Williams College graduate Jonathan Draxton tackles weighty matters in the world premiere of his “Soldier” in New York City at HERE. This tightly wound fifty minute production challenges the audience to question when one who has committed heinous crimes against humanity has demonstrated the level of remorse that warrants forgiveness and reconciliation. These are perhaps questionably attainable qualities for the phantasm of Nazi soldier Heinrich Weiss and the ghosts of his soldiers all who lost their lives at the hands of the Russian army at Stalingrad. However, Mr. Draxton who portrays Officer Weiss, challenges each of the twenty-five audience members to hear his story, believe that he and his men were indeed “animals” and hand over the coins needed to ferry him and his men from purgatory to an underworld that will perhaps proffer redemption and release from their war crimes of the past.
After sharing horrific stories of his actions for the glory of Germany and Hitler’s vision of a healed world, Heinrich Weiss approaches each audience member and requests the coins needed to make the trans-Styx journey. If the coin is relinquished, the officer responds with a “Heil Hitler” that belies a stubborn and unrepentive spirit. But there are other stories of grace and charm and family loyalty that might convince the listener that, after all, Hitler’s Youth Movement (HJ) was persuasive enough to draw young German men into the cauldron of hate that murdered millions of Jews and gay men and the participants were only doing what they believed to be the best for the new Germany and the rest of the world. Mr. Draxton manages to create a character that is a trope for the moral ambiguity inherent in any serious treatment of war and its aftermath.
Weiss’s father, also a soldier, taught Heinrich “never to be sorry for what you do, for what you do is who you are and you should never be sorry for who you are.” Weiss took his father’s advice to heart as he embraced Hitler’s deranged design. Though he and his men kill Jews and aging prostitutes, “they are soldiers” and embrace the dictum that’s what soldiers do in times of war.
Audience members connect to Draxton’s script in a variety of ways and perhaps the play equips them to examine their own participation in a variety of evil endeavors. After all, who among us does not envision a better world, a healed world and who among us is not willing to “endure the fire” until that utopia is achieved? And who among us would deny that those refining fires often result in horrific acts of death. Who, after all, can truly say what is right and what is wrong? Or perhaps we can. Perhaps we must. But, at the end of the day, who makes that decision. This is the stuff, the grit of Jonathan Draxton’s new play and it is worth sitting in an odd configuration of padded folding chairs as Draxton’s uber-soldier passes by, touches us, and kneels before us hoping to convince us that he has learned the lessons of his past and should be allowed to move on.