Stalag 17
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Gene Abravaya

Spreckels Performing Arts Center and Riot Theater present Stalag 17 by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. Many will remember the hit movie starring William Holden and Peter Graves. But before it was a movie, it was a Broadway play.

Bevan and Trzcinski were prisoners of war, and like many POWs of WWII and other wars, realized that one of the best ways to survive is to have a sense of humor. Indeed, this play is essentially a comedy. When one of the POWs gets a letter from his wife telling him that someone left a baby on her front porch and she decided to take care of it as though it were theirs, he says: “I can believe that.” When she tells him that the baby’s eyes look a lot like hers, he keeps repeating: “I can believe that. I can believe that.” The men are always kidding each other, but while we laugh with them, we soon realize that this is a way for them to cope with the harsh conditions in the Nazi POW camp.

Adding to the authenticity is the realistic set design with the POWs’ bunks reaching out into the audience’s seats. “The cast was also provided with extensive research material pertaining to the daily life of the actual Stalag 17-B, delving into combat mission entries, reports and diary entries of what soldiers typically encountered,” said director Denise Elia. “Additionally, the cast began nearly each rehearsal with ‘basic training for theater,’ which included a variety of different drills and ceremonies. All of this helped instantly create a common thread among the cast and make the history that much more accessible.”

The power of this drama hinges on betrayal. One of the POWs is either selling information to the Nazis or he’s a spy. In this tight environment where humor and comradeship are key elements of survival, betrayal throws this delicate balance into chaos.

Don’t miss this excellent WWII drama. For tickets or more information call Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park at 707-588-3400 or visit

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