Review by Danny Gaisin
He was the only American soldier executed for desertion since the Civil War and some still consider it a blot on Military justice. Based on W.B. Huie’s 1954 book; Robert Knuckle has crafted a balanced and almost objective iteration of this sorry chapter in American history. Under the aegis and delicate touch of Willard Boudreau; who is neither maudlin nor melodramatic, Kayson Productions of Dundas has staged a perfect and dramatic gem. We were fascinated and touched.
The “Execution of Eddie Slovik” provides no judgements or finger-pointing; it hides none of the background warts or flaws of the protagonist. His only-average intelligence; poor background; Police record; lack of education and stubbornness were intrinsic to the Army’s fateful decision. The Wehrmacht’s Ardennes & Boulogne break-outs and ferocious resistance caused a legion of Allied deserters and AWOL situations. Zhukov’s Red Army defenders at Leningrad & Stalingrad held their line because of orders he gave to his officers to mount machine guns behind the frontline troops thus deterring retreat or desertion…Supreme Allied Commander D.D. Eisenhower was a friend and admirer of Zhukov. So, an example needed to be made that would hopefully deter future Expeditionary troops to turn coward.
Any battle veteran will admit that “Nobody’s an atheist in a foxhole”, and ‘No one is NOT afraid under fire’; but obedience-to-orders; conditioning; faith and reliance that one’s comrades always have ‘their six’ take them ‘over the top’. But even the bravest spirit can crack after continued bombardment. Slovik mentally & physically gave up after his first enemy attack. He felt that jail time was preferable; begged for rear echelon and even signed a notice of desertion. His commanders suggested he destroy the document eventually having him addendum the letter with a pre-Miranda’ acknowledgement on the back (the play omits this trivia). He rejected all defensive advice. He was convicted and shot.
Knuckle’s play retells the story by having Slovik; dynamically portrayed by Austin Rudaniecki; telling his new cellmate the charges for which he’s been convicted. As his story unfolds, representative vignettes are played out at stage front. Meanwhile; listener Gregory Cruikshank mirrors his own impressions of the representative sketches with dramatic facial expression and body language. The duo is a harmonic and effective Interlocker/ Mr. Bones vehicle. Rudanieki’s transitions from inmate to his pre-military reality are seamless and convincing. The progression from reform school to happily married life with a scene-stealing Andrea Adcock is checked by a Draft Board change from 4-F to 1-A and audiences can viscerally feel the immediate slope from crest to trough.
Act II brings both the despair of non-commutation to the actual implementation of sentence; and then the efforts by an age-advanced Adcock; ill but still fighting for her late husband’s reputation. This time the thespian instrument is her dialogue with Elaine Hale as a Detroit newspaper woman plus some powerful support-cast cameos, again in a vignette milieu. Rudanieki’s JAG counsel is Daniel Gariepy and an empathetic Steve O’Brien plays the Catholic chaplain ‘Carl Cummings’ who legend claims recommended Slovik face the execution with bravery, and even asks for the condemned man’s prayers. The relationship between Rudaniecki and a compassionate Reform School teacher portrayed by Graham Clements also reprieves in the second act.
A tour-de-force representation is Vince Carlin’s General Norman Cota; whose rational evaluation of his own decision to sign off on the capital punishment not only balances the whole play but also forces the audience to look at the U.S. Army in the light of Wartime 1944-45, not by today’s standards wherein we haven’t hung anyone since Mulroney’s Ministry.
The Execution of Eddie Slovik will be at the D.L.T.’s Garstin Centre until May 30th. It’s not a FUN show but it is a theatrical paragon…Highly recommended.
*Note To Alex Trebek, Hi guy; we’re fans of Jeopardy™, especially when there’s a Canadian participant such as 5-day winner Andrew Haringer. But Sir, why can’t you tie contestants down so that viewers don’t become nauseous from watching players dance as he did, like they’re at the Western wall every time they speak. Another annoyance -those contenders who repeatedly punch their signal-buttons like impatient elevator passengers. It reminds one of watching somebody self-abuse!