Incident at Vichy, Writers’ Theatre Chicago. Lately the American theater seems so devoid of a conscience that just hearing Arthur Miller’s voice is refreshing–particularly in this top-notch production of his gripping, underappreciated morality play, written when he was still in his prime, about suspects rounded up by Nazi officers in occupied France. In this almost unbearably tense play, the prisoners await their inevitable fates and plot futilely to escape a rapidly deteriorating society in which only businessmen and aristocrats stand a chance of survival. Wise and sophisticated, Miller turns Platonic dialogues into compelling theater and demonstrates the breadth of complicity in acts of racism not only in Nazi Germany but around the globe by depicting a cross section of society: artists, tradesmen, businessmen, and nobility.

Sparkling performances abound in this typically economical Writers’ Theatre Chicago production, which emphasizes moral and linguistic clarity over technical extravagance. Mark Richard is especially fine as an actor who believes that self-assurance and eloquence will save him from a concentration camp, and Steve Hinger excels as an Austrian prince who attempts to behave heroically even when all acts of heroism seem futile.

One may criticize Miller for his didactic or rabbinical tone at times, and a few of these performers, notably those playing Nazis, in their most strident moments border on parody. But these are small nits to pick in a smart, lean production of a vital, intelligent, laudably conscientious piece of classic American theater.

–Adam Langer