Jeffrey Sweet’s The Action Against Sol Schumann is a play tragically locked in combat with itself. Its title evokes a somber, dispassionate play of ideas, which raises its head every so often, imparting perplexed dignity to a far more emotionally roiled drama that isn’t about Sol Schumann at all, but about his eldest son, Aaron. The year is 1985. Sol is a Holocaust survivor, who, it turns out, was a kapo in the Ordenhaupt camp, an inmate appointed by the Nazis to compel other Jews to work. Sol’s crimes, it’s alleged, go beyond simply obeying orders to coerce and brutalize: Having seen his entire family destroyed, he has perpetrated acts of sadism “even when the Germans were not there.” When the U.S. government starts proceedings to rescind his citizenship, the tabs dub him “the ogre of Ordenhaupt.”
The issues are engrossing. When does the quest to survive become savagery to others? Sweet tosses this question into the air but mostly doesn’t explore it, shifting the focus away from Sol, whose role in the proceedings is largely passive, to Aaron, a hot-tempered young radical, steeped in the idealization of his father’s victimhood. While the process of gathering evidence for and against Sol occupies the peripheries, it’s Aaron’s vehement reactions to events that constantly take stage center. The effect of this constant slippage from father to son, from the ominous reverberant subject to the emotionally engrossing but more conventional one, is compounded by Amy Feinberg’s production, lucidly shaped but too often weakly acted, despite four excellent performances in key roles by Douglas Dickerman (Aaron) and Herbert Rubens (Sol), and by Jerry Rockwood and Tandy Cronyn as Sol’s principal attacker and defender, respectively.