Actor’s new take on Hauptmann makes Logan’s play worth seeing
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticemail@example.com March 31, 2013 9:54PM
Jeremy Trager stars as Bruno Hauptmann in “Hauptmann” by BoHo Theatre.
When: Through April 21
Where: BoHo Theatre at the Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood
Info: (866) 811-4111; www.BoHoTheatre.com
Run time: 2 hours with one intermission
Updated: May 2, 2013 6:11AM
There are at least two excellent reasons to catch “Hauptmann,” the compulsively watchable BoHo Theatre revival of John Logan’s play about Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man convicted and executed for the notorious 1932 kidnapping and murder of the baby son of world famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
The first reason is to be reminded of just how smart, beautifully written and full of detail and ambiguity Logan’s play, which debuted in Chicago in 1986, happens to be, and why, along with his first work (“Never the Sinner,” about the Leopold and Loeb case), it launched him toward a formidable career as a Hollywood screenwriter. (Logan recently returned to playwriting, winning a 2010 Tony Award for “Red,” about the painter Mark Rothko. And his newest work, a one-woman show, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers” — starring Bette Midler as the famous Hollywood agent of the title — opens on Broadway on April 24.)
The second reason to see this show is actor Jeremy Trager’s bravura performance as Hauptmann. I confess my memories of Denis O’Hare’s brilliant interpretation of the role in the original made me wary of watching anyone else attempt it. But Trager, a more handsome man who has made his mark primarily as a musical theater actor, is extraordinary, revealing a whole new side of his talent here. His Hauptmann is just a bit more of a showman, suggesting a man at once fiercely envious of Lindbergh, America’s gilded “hero,” who also grows increasingly fascinated by his own ability to compete with that man’s celebrity on some insidious level.
The mixture of desperation and arrogance, self-righteousness and terror are all neatly calibrated by Trager, as is the German accent of this immigrant who, we learn, was not just an ordinary husband, father and carpenter, but a man with quite a checkered past. What both Logan and Trager also manage to do is capture the resentment that can fester when the American Dream looms large but remains largely elusive.
This is very much Hauptmann’s show. Its first act opens with an extended monologue, spoken as he awaits his walk to the electric chair, and as he gives us his version of the events that led to his conviction as the infamous “baby killer.” The second act is his trial — far from a textbook case of high courtroom ethics, but revelatory.
Director Stephen M. Genovese aptly uses his six supporting actors, including Chris Amos and Eleanor Katz (as the Lindberghs); Nathan Grant as the strange ransom organizer, Dr. Condon, and Derek Van Barham as Judge Trenchard almost as figments of Hauptmann’s imagination, while the chief prosecutor, David Wilentz (a fiery Nathan Randall), assumes three dimensions.
John Zuiker’s set for the the tiny BoHo stage at the Heartland Studio is minimalist — a claustrophobic room painted prison green, with just a couple of benches and an overhead lamp. It is the perfect backdrop for this searing portrait of a man who succeeded in making a name for himself by any means possible.