Dramatic History Inspires Historical Drama

"Evan illuminates a piece of fascinating, little-known history about power, obedience, retribution, and justice. This is an incredibly important story, one I'm so glad we will be telling." — Peter DuBois

The face of Eichmann over a map of
South America as sketched by Malkin
during his assignment in Buenos Aires.

The story surrounding Captors may sound familiar. In its broadest strokes, it starts with an elite undercover team covertly hunting an enemy in a foreign country and ends with a burial at sea. Most of us know something about the capture in Argentina of the notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann and his subsequent trial in Jerusalem, however, most of us do not know that before leaving for Israel, the Mossad agents who abducted Eichmann — all of whom lost family members or themselves survived the Holocaust — were confined in a safe house in a town outside of Buenos Aires for ten days with the man most responsible for the implementation of the Final Solution.

Playwright Evan M. Wiener was drawn to this little-known piece of the story. He writes, "When I read the book that inspired Captors (the memoir Eichmann in My Hands), I found myself riveted by a small but absolutely crucial slice of history. Eichmann's name has become a kind of cultural shorthand. But the story of those ten days is not familiar, and the prospect of interpreting those events for the stage, with a living, breathing Eichmann sharing space in real time with both his captors and the audience, seemed to open limitless possibilities." In Captors, Wiener cunningly examines the fraught realities of sharing space with a moral monster, a man who was literally the stuff of nightmares.

Writers in every literary form have long turned to history for inspiration. One can argue that Western drama begins with a history play, The Persians by Aeschylus, which tells the story of the Persian war from the point of view of the defeated. Shakespeare, of course, is known for his "history plays" and the tragedies Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. In contemporary drama, British writers have successfully mined stories about physicists (Copenhagen), American politicians (Frost/Nixon), and the Iraq war (Stuff Happens). Interestingly, there are few enduring historical dramas of American provenance, The Crucible being the best-known exception. Wiener considers the topical familiarity of historical drama an asset: "I think in a good historical drama, familiarity with the subject is only the point of entry, like the call of the carnival barker. Once the show starts, it's all about finding the unfamiliar — some perception-altering or expanding approach to the official record or to conventional wisdom."

"Contemporary relevance is obviously essential," explains Wiener. When he started the play, he had no way of knowing that US forces would capture and execute Osama bin laden months before it premiered or that its first production would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Eichmann's trial, nor was that a goal. "I'd be leery of any writer who began a play thinking outside-in, who consciously started by saying something like, 'I'll use the Irish potato famine to comment on Fox News.' Ideally it's more organic: a great true story compels you — you might not even be quite sure why — and as you write about 'back then' from a perspective of 'right now,' the parallels and resonances begin to emerge and evolve."

Lisa Timmel


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