God on Trial is a play inside a frame narrative that gives the play a context. Tourists come to Auschwitz and their guide explains that a block of inmates held a trial with God as the defendant. The trial occurs on a night between a selection (current inmates chosen to be executed to make room for new arrivals) and the morning of their death. So the backdrop is supposed to be one of urgency.
After deciding murder is not a correct charge, the group decided on breech of contract: if the Jews are God’s chosen people, why is there a holocaust? It is a trial, so there is debate. Since the charge is not as binary as murder, the debate is going to involve lots of stances in the significant gray area surrounding the charge.
It is a trial without a true defendant sitting in the dock, so the speakers are basically jurors who are aware of the facts that would have been submitted were it a real trial. This means speeches, lots of them. Two of these speeches eat up about 10 minutes each. This diminishes the urgency that was supposed to be created in the time between selection and death. This trope also means that the audience needs reminding that these speeches take place in a blockhouse in Auschwitz, since as a topic, it could be held anywhere. Halfway through the trial, for no other reason than reminding, the new inmates go through their processing (head shaving to tattooing), and occasionally a speech is interrupted by barking and other ominous sounds bleeding in from the outside.
Also, there are no real characters. They have names, but the names are rarely repeated. Each “character” then becomes a function: blind follower, non-believer, scholar, one losing faith, apostate, etc—the actors playing these functions also lose individuality. This makes it impossible to empathize and if I cannot do that, the story fails. One character/function says that a god who isn’t personal is called weather. My paraphrase is that a production with no characters is a failed documentary. I am aware of the argument that character-as-function is symbolic. I think that is just a copout position that “forgives” an author interested only in an idea so he or she doesn’t have the responsibility of using the basic ingredients of storytelling.
Finally the ideas on all sides have been hashed over and over in many ways for as long as there has been print. To be blunt, God on Trial is a sophomoric presentation of a topic best left as an episode of Mysteries of the Bible.
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