Thursday , April 25 2024
A murdered Nazi officer pleads for passage over the River Styx, and his fate is in our hands.

Theater Review (NYC): Soldier by Jonathan Draxton

You know you’re in for something unusual when instead of being given a program you’re merely asked to take a penny from a cupful of coins at the theater door. Soldier, a remarkable one-man piece written and enacted by Jonathan Draxton and acutely directed by Kevin O’Rourke, places the audience not in rows but in chairs scattered through a featureless black-box space (at the downstairs theater at HERE through Dec. 22). Enter Heinrich Weiss, a charismatic and enigmatic young Nazi officer, addressing us first in German, then in accented but perfectly understandable English. Soon it’s apparent that he’s dead, so are we, and we’re all waiting for the ferry across the River Styx.

Unlike us, Heinrich and the (unseen) men from his command lack coins for passage to the next world. The play takes shape as he tries to cajole us into giving him the necessary fare. To this end he recounts the story of his life as an adolescent Nazi enthusiast in the 1930s, a soldier in the Wehrmacht, a member of one of the notorious Einsatzgruppen (the death squads responsible for the mass shootings of Jews, Communists, Gypsies and others), and finally a murdered prisoner of war at Stalingrad. Heinrich’s tales of lessons learned from his father, the departure of his English mother in the face of Hitler’s ascendancy, wartime drunkenness and derring-do, and most especially his revelations of the recognizable human nature of his honest belief in the righteousness of the Nazi cause, are calculated to draw our sympathy; we never doubt that honesty, or even (in context) his good intentions. That’s a tribute to the effectiveness of Draxton’s wrenching text and commanding performance.

The concept of the show contributes to its effect as well. Sitting scattered about facing every which way, audience members see and must in a subtle way engage with one anothers’ countenances and reactions as Heinrich addresses them personally – asking questions, using them as props, beseeching them for help. He forces us to understand that if we deny him a coin, it is not only in the knowledge that he participated willingly in the most dreadful slaughter in history, but also in the rich understanding of his essential humanity, the recognition that all of his feelings – devotion to his men, respect and love for his father, youthful high spirits, loyalty, even flights of poetic fancy – are in some essential way no different from our own.

Soldier is a remarkable achievement in the tight confines of a very small show, and I recommend it highly to anyone interested in unusual, challenging theater. (Half its proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project.)

Photo credit: Kenna Draxton

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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