Louis Cancelmi and Michael Cristofer in Captors
(© T. Charles Erickson)
Louis Cancelmi and Michael Cristofer in Captors
(© T. Charles Erickson)
Many historically-based plays have a built-in stumbling block: Unless the situation in question is truly obscure, the audience most likely knows how it turned out. That's one major flaw haunting Captors, a new play by Evan M. Weiner premiering at Boston University's Huntington Theatre, based on the 1990 memoir by former Israeli secret service operative Peter Z. Malkin.

Weiner has structured his play with its most dramatic scene -- an agent accosts, then seizes elusive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (the riveting Michael Cristofer) on a deserted Buenos Aires street one dark, stormy night -- right at the outset, and again as a curtain closer. As a result, everything in between is basically explication.

A narrator, here called Cohn (Daniel Eric Gold), immediately steps forward to rattle off the facts and introduce the personae. At this point in 1960, we're told, Eichmann had eluded capture for well over a decade, ultimately working under an alias in Argentina. Malkin (played by a gray-wigged Louis Cancelmi, his face "aged" with over-obvious prosthetics) shuffles in, ready to tell his tale. After a few more morsels of exposition, Malkin dramatically peels off the guise of old age to participate in the action, such as it is.

Having verified Eichmann's identity and subjected him to a cursory, nonviolent interrogation, two guards (Christopher Burns as the arch-Germanic Hans, Ariel Shafir as their calculating supervisor Uzi) treat their catch with kid gloves. Tempted as these Mossad agents may have been to exact a personal revenge (all had suffered unimaginably under what Eichmann coined the "Final Solution"), they had a higher goal in mind: putting him on public trial in Israel, and thus on the front pages of newspapers worldwide, some 15 years after the Nuremberg trials.

The crux of the play is how to smuggle Eichmann out of Argentina (which would have its own ideas on how and even whether to try him). A corollary objective is to get him to sign his consent to the secretive extradition, so as not to incur international opprobrium.

Weiner's play picks up momentum in the second act, as Eichmann's innate, unquashable self-confidence starts to resurface. Malkin, narrowing in on this glaring Achilles heel, must overcome his revulsion and feign a certain camaraderie in order to gain his captive's trust. The two play a game of psychological cat-and-mouse which -- fortunately for the interests of justice, less so in dramatic terms -- can only have one outcome.