by Ed Malin · February 26, 2015
Matthew Trumbull | Nat Cassidy
"Sacrifices must be made." These are the reported last words of Otto Lilienthal, the German aviation pioneer who tragically almost flew. Contrast Otto with the crew of a German Unterseeboot that submerges well enough but may never rise again. This tense, literally breathtaking situation is the stuff of a story by 20th century visionary H.P. Lovecraft and of an even better dramatization by Nat Cassidy. If you've tried to envision what it would be like to be stuck with armed men in a metal sausage beneath the waves, The Temple, or Lebensraum will bring you on that terrifying, liberating adventure.
It takes all types to crew a WWII German submarine. There are seasoned veteran soldiers such as Muller (John Blaylock) who can remember the Great War, Zinner (Tristan Colton), Trauke (Zac Hoogendyk), Raab the engineer (Eric Gilde), and new recruits Ahrendt (Ridley Parson) and Bohm (John D. Gardner). The overextended Kommandant Klenze (Arthur Aulisi) rules for the most part with an iron fist, but even he is unbalanced when SS observer Heinrich (Matthew Trumbull) comes on board. Heinrich is clearly not in his element. He vomits at the motion of the ocean and insists on wearing his immaculate 3rd Reich uniform as he supervises the making of a film about U-Boots. It’s 1943 and Germany’s chances for success are slowly sinking, which explains the need for a propaganda film and all the jokes the crew use to boost their morale. (Q: What’s your favorite part of Germany? A: France!) The men are mainly sweaty and tired. Some make wisecracks about Nazis. Some may not be loyal to Deutschland at all. There are quite a lot of secrets for such an intimate space. But Klenze’s illustration of how a ship or a fist only works when all the parts follow orders is a great setup for the rest of the story. Indeed, Klenze is soon in bed due to an accident (was it an accident?), a survivor (Adriana Jones) of a sunken British vessel whose almost-lifeless body gets affixed to the U-Boot in a most amazing way nevertheless scares everyone to death, the U-Boot is attacked by the glorious Allied bastards, and the remaining officers try to figure out the chain of command while they await a promised rescue. That Heinrich is the origin of this rescue promise may be the real problem. He uses the non-sequitur punchline “No soap, radio” a lot, which can be a refreshing break from the crew’s rational, destructive routine. But is he irrational, or committed to destroying a lot more than Ausländer?
Sandy Yaklin’s set design is quite incredible. We know that somewhere else inside the sub there are stuffed a total of 53 men, but the control room feels expansive enough to tolerate all of the different personalities and viewpoints. It’s Jeanne Travis’s sound design which gives us the feeling of fighting a losing battle against the merciless current. Ben Philipp has designed a great variety of costumes, from everyday soldier to Heinrich’s ridiculously empowering uniform. And to the question of how can you tell when it’s night on a U-Boot, well, whatever time it is it still feels sinister thanks to Morgan Zipf-Meister’s lighting. Effortlessly universal in the way All Quiet on the Western Front tries to be, Nat Cassidy’s writing and direction gently delve into the question of “why” we do things. The cast are all superb. Never had so many laughs about a submarine. Ostensibly, some of the soldiers agree with defending Deutschland but would prefer another party than the National Socialists to be in charge (assuming all other parties hadn’t been banned). This begs the question whether the operatives who took out Osama bin Laden might have wished they had been doing it for a Republican administration. There is something very human about taking care of your own, and there will be some very difficult choices for the crew to make about who gets to breathe the precious U-Boot air. The Lovecraftian influence comes at certain times, definitely making me vow never to join the navy, but The Temple is a mostly non-supernatural drama that will appeal to anyone. We’re all human. Right?