Besides sharing an important, under-told story, the Old Globe’s The Twenty-Seventh Man showcases three veteran actors at the peak of their game. Hal Linden, Ron Orbach and Robert Dorfman portray three (of 26) Soviet Jewish writers who were jailed and then executed at Stalin’s behest on “The Night of the Murdered Poets.” In this potent one-act play written by Nathan Englander and directed by the Globe’s Barry Edelstein (who directed its New York premiere in 2012), the silver-haired Linden is Yevgeny Zunser, regarded as a national treasure, and ever the wise and dignified man, behind bars and accepting his fate. Orbach’s Moishe Bretzky, is the most emotional of the three, a blustering man of temptations and passions. Dorfman’s Vasily Korinsky is the most visibly shaken and in his mind the most betrayed. Into their cell comes the titular twenty-seventh man – actually a boy, Pinchas Pelovits (Eli Gelb). How he fits into the moving and terrible denouement provides the play’s subtextual intrigue.
The Twenty-Seventh Man is a study in courage and truth in self that for the most part avoids mere philosophizing. Rarely will you encounter a play set in a prison cell so liberating.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat