The black box on the fourth floor has a claustrophobic feel. The central space is stark and looks more like a basement than an attic -- a couple of benches, neutral gray walls, a narrow high window, a couple of empty beer bottles left on the sill. As you gather and settle into the ranks of seats around that central space, the theatre serenades you with recordings of French music -- Jacques Brel, an anachronism, singing his lament about the 1914 assassination of pacifist Jean Jaurès, then a better calibrated sucession of ballads by Edith Piaf.
The house lights are up when a couple of men in overcoats and fedoras bring in a man from your right and summarily deposit him on a bench. He sits, bewildered. A few moments pass, and the plainclothesmen bring another arrested man in from your left. Eventually the house lights go down, the collect continues, and the spectators face an unwilling, withdrawn and involuntary group of about a dozen males.
This is Vichy, some 400 kilometers south of Paris. It's the administrative capital of the "free" zone administered during early years of World War II by a government headed by Marshal Pétain. Expressionless French police do not respond to the uneasy questions of the detainees. We gradually learn that they've been picked up off the streets by cruising patrols. None appears to have broken the law, except perhaps for the sullen gypsy presumed to be a thief by vocation.