There is much that could be explored here: the responsibility of the artist in war, the crushing curse of anti-Semitism, the transcendence of music above politics. But Klein offers a surface skimming of these issues and fails to convey the horror of war-torn Europe and the conductor's desperate need to practice his art in his homeland. The main trouble is that one vital character—Mahler—is missing from the scene. It would have been more interesting if the composer had been a fully realized if ghostly presence on stage, perhaps a figure in Mengelberg's imagination. At least then there would have been a stronger conflict, with an opposing player to bounce arguments against.
Any actor taking on a 90-minute one-man play is to be commended for courage, and Robert Lohbauer certainly has that quality. But he doesn't appear to have a firm grip on the character and doesn't convince us that Mengelberg's dilemmas—placating the Germans, then being tried for treason by the Dutch—are literally matters of life and death. Lohbauer's best moments are lightly amused critiques of the thickheadedness of Mengelberg's countrymen. And Emile Fallaux's pedestrian staging doesn't serve Lohbauer well. One of the most potentially affecting scenes has Mengelberg trying to buy a ticket to the Nazi-sanctioned all-Jewish orchestra, featuring several of his former players, but as a gentile, he is forbidden to enter. Fallaux has Lohbauer play this crucial moment, when the maestro realizes that his private world of music has been irreparably corroded by the Germans' barbarism, with his back to the audience.
It's telling that the only sublime moments are provided by recordings of Mahler's heavenly music and Lohbauer's silent ecstatic reactions as he conducts. We could get the same effect by attending a concert.
Presented by and at Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass. June 12–Sept. 10. Schedule varies. (413) 637-3353 or www.shakespeareandcompany.org.