Moving with efficient narrative speed on a deceptively complex scale, Jacob Sherman in his startling new work, “Vitriol” captures the wave of insurmountable Nazi oppression under the Third Reich. This vivid recreation demonstrates how power and justice were systematically removed from the hands of every citizen, until nothing remained but the dominance of Nazi ideology. The systematic process of dehumanization and its subsequent effect on the people that resisted becomes the emotional core of this astute character driven piece.
The merits of strong acting cannot be stressed enough in this work, or any work for that matter that attempts to capture in an objective sense the tide of history, that in a mere two hours of a pivotal production results in Hitler’s dramatic rise to power. The members of the “Munich Post” rail against, uncover information, and attempt to discredit the ‘Party’ while standing firm for their own principles as members of the left leaning Social Democrats. The Opening scene acknowledges the various differences between several groups in Germany, but quickly resolves to focus on the gravest threat, Hitler and his brown shirts. It isn’t long before the right to criticize the ‘Party’, defended masterfully by Ryan Spickard as the proud Bavarian Erhard Auer, results in inevitable violence. Police state tactics continue to intensify in severity, as the insurmountable propaganda of the SA creates an ideological strangle hold over malleable citizens yearning for
a national identity.
From the newsroom to the local beer hall, and finally to the courtroom where little justice prevails, the ideological fight becomes socially entrenched. Mr. Sherman’s clearly stated text weaves together the complex social framework necessary to explore the systematic implications of Nazism, as it spreads like a cancer. The Stalwart Editor and Chief Martin Gruber played by the masterful David S. Klein represents the principled moral focus of the voice of resistance, but in the end it becomes quite clear that these principles represent that of a German people robbed of any notion of national character other than that propagated by the Reich.
This total loss of freedom for any free thinker in a civil society serves as a very real reminder that social justice must be fought for, a testament that emerges when observing the reporters of the “Munich Post” unknowingly attempt in vain to discredit Hitler’s party throughout this ten year period. Mounting losses, particularly in the Reichstag, shatter the illusion that somehow the German people will prevail against this damning sweep of tyranny. As ‘intelligent’ spectators newly arrived from the cruel world outside we begin to understand that politics remains capable of possessing a very real conspiratorial element.
Justice becomes systematically distorted in order to defend the principles of the Nazi party; ultimately the single dominant ideology in the face of all opposition, effectively quelled beneath the Jackboot. This very real, very sinister side of human nature becomes capable of thwarting any attempt to reconcile national identity with social justice, in particular when all other elements in a civil society become purged through violence. Clearly, by the time the members of the "Post" discover the implementation of the “Final Solution” any notion of a German democratic culture has been effectively wiped off the face of the planet.
History begins again…
In our current era, Multiculturalism purports the acceptance of a diverse range of social values, but such a manifestation rooted in justice and tolerance becomes virtually inconsequential; if ninety five percent of the nations wealth becomes concentrated in five percent of the population, if the consumer isthe target created for market manipulation, if religious ideology supports claims of justice that will benefit all believers throughout eternity, but onlyafter death, if collective bargaining rights become rendered ineffective, if the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, if access to higher education remains unaffordable, and if effectively nothing is done about man made environmental degradation. And yet the dominant American ideology that America is God’s greatest beneficiary on earth will continue to mesmerize despite the walls of justice crumbling all around us. With one lit candle multiculturalism will help perpetuate this incredible delusion; effectively denying the truth so that any notion of democracy simply becomes
the icing on the corporate oligarchy cake.
This dramatic irony of knowing that all attempts to stop Hitler will result in failure leaves only one man standing at the end of the story, the editor Edmund Goldshagg. This character represents the emotional center, penetrating our sensibilities with the weight of irretrievable personal loses. Through the use of several interior monologues we learn of Goldshagg’s humanity, in particular when he reveals the vital importance of a good (objective) reporter, or in this case historian- debates further explored in his relationship to the writer/poet Julius Zerfass, played with zeal and passion by Jeremy Thomas. These Nuanced vignettes reveal the scars of war, the devastating impact of the fiery destruction of the newspaper, and ultimately the untimely deaths of fellow members. Such personal tragedies can never to be replaced, repealed, or repaired. It would be a mistake to call these vignettes simply flashbacks, while the repetitive use of such disheartening information reminds us of the lasting impact of the past upon the individual.
Mr. Sherman possesses an acute ‘cinematic’ sense of editing, and understands how the nature of such a sweeping plot must quickly weave in and out of key historical moments, while remaining true to the struggles of the characters. Stark dramatic moments emerge when the group endures the confinement of Dachau, endures the insidious nature of courts ideologically dominated by the ‘Party’, become subjected to endless reams of lawsuits, and finally condemned as traitors amidst overwhelming social injustice. Such a vivid exploration reinforces not only the thrust of this monumental shift toward inhumanity, but it also fosters a vibrant belief in resistance to dominant, established norms no matter how corrupt, despicable, or seemingly trivial.
Such diverse voices of resistance create depth and resonance, further illustrating the complexity of the German ‘character’, articulated through Erhard’s patriotic struggle to criticize free from censure, or Martin Gruber’s blistering defense of the German soldier caught in an ideological no win situation by Reich propaganda. ‘Objectivism’ versus propaganda, and carefully knowing how to dramatize the difference becomes a major claim for Mr. Sherman’s dynamic work. The value of Tom Dewey’s poignant direction, as well as Brenan Grant’s versatility in several diverse roles cannot be overstated here. But as the complete lack of women in the production illustrates, no history whatsoever can ever be completely objective; it can only yield moments of truth that provokes our anger if we choose to become free thinking explorers amidst a sea of socially constructed illusions…