Hauptmann, TimeLine Theatre Company. Everything that made the “trial of the century” entertaining 68 years ago–the horror of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby and the scapegoating of bumbling illegal immigrant Richard Hauptmann–makes John Logan’s taut 1986 re-creation so much Court TV catnip. Nick Bowling’s pile-driving revival captures the media frenzy, kangaroo court, and hilariously boneheaded testimony; P.J. Powers, as the self-proclaimed innocent defendant, provides sarcastic commentary.
Hauptmann rages at winning infamy instead of fortune–that’s not how his beloved Astaire-Rogers fantasies end. Lindbergh, the golden native, has luck, looks, and a legend; now he wants this loser’s life. The clash between the Lone Eagle and the Lone Wolf (as Hauptmann was conveniently anathematized) was patently unfair, and Powers gives his character a volatile mix of self-destructive irreverence and underdog resilience. Though Pat Hofmann is self-effacing as Hauptmann’s Frau, the other six ensemble members are lions circling an antelope they’ve brought down.
Some may wish to lump Hauptmann together with The Exonerated, which makes a brilliant case against capital punishment. Logan apparently hopes to indict our xenophobic, paranoid court system too, but ultimately he’s too faithful to the facts to make his case. He leaves Hauptmann’s innocence in doubt, having him deliver a fantasy of how the crime really happened and collapse when grilled by Matthew Krause’s bulldog prosecutor. The trial was a travesty, but that doesn’t make Hauptmann an automatic martyr.