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Calendar >  World Premiere of “Sense of Decency” On Stage At Solana Beach’s North Coast Repertory Theatre

World Premiere of “Sense of Decency” On Stage At Solana Beach’s North Coast Repertory Theatre

By   /  April 22, 2024  /  No Comments


TR Robertson – The fifth play in North Coast Repertory’s 42nd Season, “Sense of Decency”, is not only a world premiere but is also a challenging play that looks back at a time when one man was assigned to confront the faces of evil and deal with the undaunting task of trying to determine the motivation of what drove the men he was dealing with to perform the heinous acts they were involved in. “Sense of Decency” is a play by Jake Broder, based on the book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist by Jack El-Hai. The book deals with the interviews Lt. Colonel Douglas McGlashan Kelley conducted, in 1945, with Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring to ascertain his competency and ability to understand and conduct himself rationally in a court process during the Nuremburg Trials at the end of WW II. The play has been specifically commissioned by North Coast Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein. Dr. Kelley was assigned the position of chief psychiatrist at the Nuremburg Trials in Germany and was to evaluate the remaining Nazi leaders after the suicide deaths of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann. Kelley was to conduct interviews with 22 defendants who were brought to trial. Of these 22 defendants, Hermann Goring was considered to be the remaining main German leader of the Nazi Party.

Photos by Aaron Rumley

“Sense of Decency” presents a look into Kelley’s selection as the chief psychiatrist and goes into his belief that he would be able to truly uncover what drove these Nazi leaders to commit the atrocities they were responsible for and a somewhat misguided belief that he would be able to stop “the virus of evil” they spread from ever happening again. The play deals specifically with Kelley’s encounter with Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring. Brendan Ford returns to NC Rep and plays Dr. Douglas McGlashan Kelley, the psychiatrist who takes on the task of evaluating Goring. Ford shows Kelley’s enthusiasm yet trepidation for his assignment as he begins the interview process. Playwright Broder uses segments from El-Hai”s book, which he wrote by gaining access to the amazing amount of transcripts, notes and files the real Kelley kept about his year long encounter with the 22 Nazi leaders. Kelley tried multiple techniques to try and pry information from Goring, everything from word association to Rorschach ink blot tests, all impeccably displayed by Ford.

Playing Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring is Frank Corrado, also an NC Rep veteran. Corrado is fascinating in his portrayal of Goring as he plays mind games with Kelley, skirting the questions and challenging Kelley to investigate the premises he is trying to test Goring with. The back-and-forth banter between Kelley and Goring is a psychological thriller for the audience as Kelley tries to establish a level of communication with one of the main leaders of the Nazi party. Interestingly, Goring makes statements leading you to believe he neither considered Hitler a true leader, nor supported Hitler’s racist beliefs, especially toward the German Jews. Did he really believe this or was it simply an attempt to delay the inevitable?

The third member of the cast, and making her NC Rep debut, is Lucy Davenport as both Dukie Kelly (wife of Douglas) and Emmy Goring (wife of Hermann). She interacts with Douglas when he was first selected for the trial, then in numerous asides speaking to him as if on a phone once he was in Nuremburg and also meeting with Kelley as Goring’s wife. Lucy presents another way to look at the two men this play concerns. As Kelley’s wife, Dukie seems to be able to keep Douglas on a clearer path in dealing with Goring, suggesting ways to reach out to him.

The task the International Military Tribunal and people like Dr. Kelley were selected for was mind-boggling. Establish a purpose to convict the defendants, determine their ability to stand trial, assemble evidence of crimes and to make a statement for the world about what could happen to those that attempted to do what Nazi Germany had tried. Not only were they dealing with war crimes, but they were also establishing crimes against humanity. Kelley wrote two books after his experience with the evaluation of the Nazi leaders, Twenty-two Cells in Nurenburg and The Case of Rudolph Hess. His and others evaluation of Hess led them to classify him as with true psychoneurosis behavior and with a paranoid and schizoid personality. Kelley would go on to teach at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine in North Carolina and later as a Professor of Criminology at UC Berkeley. He attempted to expound his belief that he can determine behavior that would lead to unthinkable behavior that would lead individuals to commit acts beyond what we might expect. The play touches on this as well as the connection Kelley may have established with Goring, perhaps leading him to commit the ultimate act, as Goring did one day before his execution sentence.

“Sense of Decency” was directed by NC Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein, assisted for the last several weeks by Playwright Jake Broder after Ellenstein dealt with a medical issue. The Design Team consisted of Production Stage Manager Evelyn G. Myers, Production Assistant Katelyn Slater, Set Designer Marty Burnett, Co-Light Designers Matthew Novotny and Eric Montierth, Costume Designer Elisa Benzoni, Sound Designer Steven Leffue, Projection Designer Matt Fitzgerald, Props Designer Audrey Casteris and Hair & Wig Designer Peter Herman. The play takes place in Goring’s cell except for several scenes on stage right and left to create Kelley’s home on one side and Emmy Goring’s cell on the other.  

This is a powerful, interesting and mesmerizing play that touches on subjects we still continue to deal with today and have dealt with for thousands and thousands of years, how do we understand and prevent evil acts? The play is not just a historic look back at a time almost eighty years ago, but it is also a look at an attempt to psychoanalyze and classify behavior, in this case evil behavior.

“Sense of Decency” will be on stage at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach until May 12th. Ticket prices range between $49-$74 and can be purchased at 858-481-1055 or go to www.northcoastrep.org.


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