In Colonial Players' current offering of the play Hauptmann, a case can be made to find the Annapolis troupe guilty of producing riveting courtroom drama.
Set in 1936, the year of Bruno Hauptmann's execution after being tried and found guilty of the kidnapping and killing of the 20-month-old infant son of American hero Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Hauptmann presents a fair-minded account of the actual proceedings while capturing the sensationalism, prejudices and celebrity worship of the era.
In the program notes, Colonial Players director Beth Terranova writes that "Hauptmann's trial triggered the mass media age in trial coverage because of the nature of the crime and the accessibility of information surrounding the case." Terranova reflects on the concept of "trial by media that raises a constitutional dilemma where freedom of speech and freedom of the press run smack against the implied right to a fair trial."
In the Annapolis company's production of the 1992 play, the minimalist set works perfectly. Lit in sepia tones, wooden chairs become a fence surrounding a cemetery, or trial seating, or the sparse furnishings of Hauptmann's prison cell. The taupe-toned floors provide an ideal background for the subdued costume colors of business suits and guard uniforms, bringing us into an earlier era.
Within this spare set some extraordinary acting occurs from a seven-member cast -- most of whom play several roles in this character-driven play.
Versatile Jim Reiter first plays a prison guard, and then becomes various trial witnesses, including an expert on handwriting and a legally blind elderly man who claimed to have seen Hauptmann near the Lindbergh estate. He transforms from reporter H. L. Mencken to critic J. Alexander Woolcott, and as Lindbergh's appointed go-between embarks on a cemetery meeting with the presumed kidnapper. In each case Reiter is believable.
Thurston Cobb is equally adept at playing several slightly less demanding roles, from policeman to priest to guard to prosecuting attorney. Danny Brooks also plays a guard, a policeman, Damon Runyon, a German priest and the judge.
Jamie Elliott plays Charles Lindbergh as a somewhat complex man who seems uncomfortable in the light of the celebrity his hero status confers. He invests Lindbergh with some sympathetic qualities as he tries to establish a rapport with Hauptmann as if to convince himself of his guilt. In addition to playing Lindbergh, Elliott is seen as a guard and policeman.
Theresa Riffle gives a touching portrayal of Hauptmann's wife, Anna, who never doubts her husband's innocence -- and who proclaimed his innocence until her death at age 95. Riffle also plays writer Edna Ferber and a guard.
Emily Bowen plays Anne Morrow Lindbergh with a celebrity aura, elegant bearing and a subtle sadness. Bowen also plays a prison guard.
Pat Reynolds becomes a multi-dimensional Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The character intrigues and mystifies us, while maintaining a sense of dignity and European reserve. Reynolds' mere hint of a German accent connotes minimalist perfection.
His gaze at his accusers conveys Hauptmann's disbelief and disdain for the quality of justice he receives. His affection for his wife Anna becomes more poignant for its lack of emotional sentimentality. Reynolds' Hauptmann becomes a player in his own drama, at one time putting on an overcoat -- the only addition to any actor's clothing -- which could indicate his assuming a mantle of guilt. His expressions of Christianity ring true, and his recitation in German of the 23rd Psalm as he prepares for his execution is powerful as is his recounting of pre-execution ritual.
Playwright John Logan is informative in his flashback drama encouraging the viewer to make a decision of Hauptmann's guilt or innocence based on accurate factual evidence presented. This is neither the familiar courtroom drama seen in Inherit the Wind nor the slanted docudrama that posits its own view. Logan's approach encourages the viewer to investigate further this long-ago case.
The 59-year-old Colonial Players troupe ends its 2007-08 season with this play, its 300th regular season production. Hauptmann can be seen Thursday through Sunday through May 24. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and may be purchased online at www.cplayers.com or by calling the box office at 410-268-7373.