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EugenioUniversalist Church, 1810 16th St. NW @ S St.

Remaining Performances: Saturday, July 19 @ 7:00 pm Sunday, July 20 @ 5:00 pm

They say: “Rome’s aloof and scholarly Chief Rabbi Zolli receives asylum in the Vatican and converts to Roman Catholicism in 1944. A Nazi and a priest also convert to new religions. Why did these three men convert? Does forgiveness play a role? Why do they clash both before and after the conversions?”

Sheffy’s take: One of the fun parts of the Fringe Festival is witnessing the gestation of new plays. After seven years of workshops and staged readings, CapFringe midwifes the production premiere of Eugenio. Creator Tony Gallo actively solicits feedback as patrons leave the show (note: his photo is in the program; if you chose to avoid him, you can always post your comments on this blog). This historically based play tries to imagine the dynamic psyche of Rome’s Chief Rabbi who ultimately rejected Judaism and embraced Catholicism. Unfortunately, Rabbi Zolli (Mark Lee Adams) lacks the compassion to make his emotional transformation authentic; although he emits a God-hating tantrum when he first learns of his brothers’ death, his later impassive reaction is marked by an emotional pitch I would equate with forgetting to send my sister a birthday card.

The play’s strength lies in its well-researched script and the emotional and moral questions it poses, although preachy at times about faith and forgiveness (for whom is the act of forgiveness, the forgiver or the forgiven?) Many provocative nuggets were tucked in the dialogue: “A uniform announces who you are; a costume conceals you.” Fittingly, the costumes were a highlight, from the terrorizing Nazi uniforms to the brilliant Cardinal vestments.

This venue has been criticized for lousy acoustics and heat, and I prepared for the worst as Fringe employed deafening jet propellers to circulate air.But at show time, the fans were turned off and the venue was fine, if not actually apropos for a play focused on the Church.

How many philosophy classes pose the question, “If we knew ahead of time, would it have been ethical to kill Hitler?” Surprisingly, this assassination is proposed by Cardinal Maglione (excellently portrayed by Jim Howard). In fact, the hidden agenda of the play may be to absolve the Catholic Church for its role in the Holocaust. As Gallo described after the play, the Church, and Pope Pius XII in particular, has been accused of complicity, failing to provide asylum, and failing to speak out against the atrocities. Eugenio, which not coincidentally was Pius’ birth name, denies the first two claims, showing how the Church not only sheltered Rabbi Zolli, but welcomed him in more ways than one.

See it if: You’re sick and tired of plays in which the Church is portrayed as corrupt, hypocritical, and rapacious for alter boys.

Skip it if: You’re hoping for an epiphany.