‘Fallbeil’ wrestles with murky moral questions


The Capital Fringe Festival production of “Fallbeil” features Josh Adams, Angie Tennant, Chelsey Christensen, Kevin Collins and Matthew Hirsh. (Courtesy Field Trip Theatre)

In the solemn “Fallbeil,” a young German woman whose soldier-brother has been horrifically maimed in a terror attack gains strength from her encounters with the ghost of a young German woman executed decades before by the Nazis.

Liz Maestri’s play carefully constructs a dialogue across time between the sullen Else (Angie Tennant) — who has been given the legal power to end her brother’s life — and Sophie (Chelsey Christensen), a character based on real-life Sophie Scholl, who was murdered on a Nazi guillotine in 1943 for participating in the White Rose antiwar movement.

It’s all so delicately wrought, though, that tension drains away on the stage in Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. Perhaps overly mindful of the mournful topic, director Nick Vargas opts for a somber tone, one that weighs the piece down under a heavy blanket of sluggishness.

“Fallbeil,” which means guillotine in German, juxtaposes the choice Sophie courageously makes, to accept her doom as the inescapable consequence of following her conscience, with Else’s waffling over her responsibility to do what’s right in light of her brother’s hopeless condition. The play wrestles valiantly with the murky moral questions arising when the ability to end a life becomes a matter of mere practicality.

Tennant and Christensen manage to establish a gentle rapport, and as Else’s friend Karl, Josh Adams provides some sensitive support. But in the process of trying to illuminate both Sophie’s resolve and Else’s gradual coming to terms with what she must do, “Fallbeil” becomes mired in repetitive scenes and circular arguments. “Hamlet” notwithstanding, indecision is not the most active of dramatic themes.

Fallbeil

by Liz Maestri. Directed by Nick Vargas. Set, Stephen Strosnider; costumes, Jennifer Salter; sound and music, Palmer Hefferan. With Matthew Hirsh. About 90 minutes. Through July 27 at Capital Fringe Festival. Visit www.capfringe.org.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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