Frustration, anger, and determination boil over at a German lakeside villa as men in Nazi uniforms storm about, sipping fine wine and discussing their solution to “the Jewish problem” in utmost secret. Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Conspiracy,” which will run through Nov. 23 at the Loeb Mainstage, retells the events of the Wannsee Conference of 1942, during which Nazi officials and bureaucrats finalized their plans for the Final Solution—the elimination of 11 million Jews from the German sphere of influence. The production’s primary success was the complex portrayal of every individual story and personality, and ultimately the mundane nature with which the characters agreed upon the devastating plan.
Inspired by the only surviving transcript of the 1942 meeting, Loring Mandel originally wrote the screenplay of “Conspiracy” in 1997, and it was turned into an HBO movie in 2001. The film production garnered many Emmy Awards, including one for Mandel’s writing. In 2012, director Caleb J. T. Thompson ’14, a Crimson arts editor reached out to Mandel, eventually adapting his screenplay into this HRDC performance.
The story begins as men walk around the German villa, adorned with lavish paintings and chairs, awkwardly conversing with one another and awaiting their host. With conviction and passion, Reinhard Heydrich (Adam J. Conner ’14, a Crimson business editor) makes his dramatic entrance, stopping the men in their place as they fumble to discard the wine and cheese in their hands. The men greet their leader with the Nazi salute of a “Heil Hitler,” which dramatically echoes throughout the theater halls and lingers about the room.
Toward the end of the play, the men delve into the crux of their task—crafting a final plan to exterminate the Jewish population throughout much of Europe. The conference includes men who differ greatly in their beliefs such as one of the writers of the Nuremberg Laws, the director of the Four Year Plan, important political figures, and German lawyers.
Conner’s performance as Heydrich remains the highlight of the show, with a determined and sincere look present on his face throughout. His role as the meeting’s leader demands a commanding presence, and Conner more than succeeds in bringing Heydrich to life. Conner makes it easy to dispise Heydrich as he constantly reminds the men that genocide is the only answer to Germany’s Jewish population. Another standout is Cole V. Edick ’17 as Wilhelm Stuckart, one of the authors of the Nuremberg Laws, who desperately yells to defend his work.
The authenticity of the show allows the audience to be transported to the tumultuous time in German history and truly experience the intensity of the situation. The flawless acting is complimented well by the technical aspects of the production. Sound design by Mikhaila R. Fogel ’16 is spectacular, the play opening with the loud, alarming cacophony of warplanes and other turmoil ensuing outside the villa. Costume design by Rachel A. Gibian ’15 is also spot-on, with the men in realistic Nazi uniforms, haircuts, and clothing adorned in swastikas.
As the story comes to an end—with the murder of the Jews finalized, all technicalities contested and resolved—the 15 men begin to exit with a faint sparkle in their eyes and a sense of accomplishment in their walk. The servants begin to burn all traces of the rendezvous, and an oddly cheerful Schubert piece plays on the record player as footsteps out the door grow fainter, highlighting the disturbingly mundane treatment of the events that transpired.
“Conspiracy” is multifaceted in its portrayal of the Wannsee Conference, and it ultimately succeeds in putting a human face behind the complex origins of the murder of millions of Jews. With its stark portrayal of the evil in all these men, along with the pure determination and pride they feel in the ensuing genocide, the production is truly memorable and spectacular in all aspects.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Nov. 25, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Nazi officials began crafting a plan to exterminate the Jewish population immediately after the start of the performance; in fact, that idea is not broached until the end of the play. The article also misstated the role of Nazi politician Erich Neumann in crafting the Four Year Plan; in fact, Neumann was the plan’s director, not its author. The article also incorrectly stated that Czech politicians attended the Wannsee conference, while in fact they were not present. Finally the article incorrectly stated that actors spoke with genuine German or Eastern European accents; in fact, the actors only spoke in American or British accents.
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