‘Camp Siegfried’ Off Broadway Review: A Misguided Play About American Nazis in ’38

Bess Wohl’s new play does not have 20-20 hindsight

camp siegfried
Johnny Berchtold and Lily McInerny in "Camp Siegfried" (Photo: Emilio Madrid)

Back in the late 1930s, there was a camp dedicated to the politics of Adolf Hitler and located on the outskirts of Yaphank, N.Y. You can learn all about the place by reading a recent New York Times article titled “How a Pro-Nazi Camp on Long Island Inspired a New Play.” You will not learn much about that Nazi camp by seeing the lackluster new play that inspired the Times article. “Camp Siegfried,” written by Bess Wohl, opened Tuesday at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater.

According to the Times, Wohl researched her subject, but for some reason has chosen to write about what must be two of the least intriguing people ever to have set their Schutzstaffel boots there. (Costumes are by Brenda Abbandandolo.) Truth be told, the young lovers dubbed He and She played by Johnny Berchtold and Lily McInerny, making impressive New York theater debuts, are fictional and only He wears boots. She wears more conventional footwear for a teenage girl, which is just one reason why She keeps getting her legs cut up and bruised as She goes about her camp duties. We know She is a Nazi because She takes a masochistic pride in her injuries and She also displays sadistic tendencies when talking dirty to He, who shows his masochistic side by masturbating to such verbal abuse. He is more direct in showing his sadistic side. He beats the crap out of She.

Late in the play, She delivers a speech that begins haltingly and ends up sounding a lot like something her idol in Nuremberg has delivered, complete with the same acoustic echo-chamber amplification and cheers from a crowd not shown to the audience.

Wohl also leaves offstage a scene where She visits a country doctor after having been beaten up by He. She tells us about it after the fact. The good doctor, alarmed by all the cuts and bruises on her legs, has told She that anyone can be deluded. Apparently this doctor knows all about Camp Siegfried and is appropriately horrified that so many people are the victims of such fascist delusion.

The far greater delusion exposed in “Camp Siegfried” is that in the year 1938 both She and He think their churchgoing parents will be delighted with the news that this unmarried teenage couple is pregnant.

David Cromer directs.