Emil’s enemies is a play told from the perspective of Dietrich, a pacifist philosopher priest, awaiting his execution after his role in several assassination attempts on Hitler is revealed. In flashbacks, which he narrates to his only companion: his hangman, he tells the story. The play alternates several times between the present: prison and the past: his interactions with the co-conspirators: his sister and her husband: Major Hans. And their encounters with their nemesis: SS officers “Little” Hans and his superior officer, who finally reveal the plot and arrest them all.
What might have been an impactful play about a priest’s dilemma between his faith and what he sees as his duty is instead reduced to a comedy of errors due to some very poor casting choices.
Dietrich’s expression alternates between alarm and boredom every few minutes regardless of the situation. His monologues are dull and uninteresting. The hangman, supposed to come across as a little dull, instead seemed drugged and dazed. Major Hans, a dynamic character on paper, is played by a slovenly-dressed actor whose accent and mumbling made him mostly incomprehensible. The SS officers wore shoddy oversized clothes. One slumped throughout in a very un-SS-like fashion, while the other channeled Sholay’s Asrani throughout resulting in more mirth than menace. The actors overacted, hadn’t rehearsed well, missed cues, dropped stuff while handing over to another. They were in such a hurry to go from act to act that they just walked across from one set-piece to another. Anyone unfamiliar with the story would assume it was all one long disjointed scene.
The last straw was in the penultimate scene, when two SS guards come to arrest Hans and Dietrich. Not wanting to spend the effort in hiring two actors who look the part, the director instead chose two under-age girls in too-large coats to stand quietly and look menacing.
When Dietrich finally came to terms with his death and went on his knees to pray for absolution, we in the audience also wanted to get down on ours in gratitude that the play was finally over.