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Amy Gorelow and Jay Torrence. Photo by Karl Clifton-Soderstrom.
By Tonika Todorova
HITLER ON THE ROOF doesn’t exactly offer subtleties when exploring its topical themes. The rise of Nationalistic pride and ideological fanaticism around the world gives everyone pause, but this production aptly reminds us what happens when you pause for too long without implementing action.
Appropriately veiled under clownish makeup are two of history’s perceived villains: Nazi Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, and filmmaker and Nazi sympathizer and propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. Stuck in some sort of perdition, the two attempt atonement, each providing the other with truths they have not been able to bear: Goebbels- responsible for crimes against humanity, including the murder of his own children while they slept and Leni- responsible for her awareness and idleness during Nazi committed atrocities.
Portrayed exquisitely by top physical performers, Amy Gorelow channels a fanatical, vengeful, shriveled and pathetic Goebbels past the verge of losing his marbles and Jay Torrence nails a regretful, narcissistic, opportunistic Leni whose success for atonement teeters on selling her naiveté with her dainty smile and bringing an egotistical Goebbels to remorse. In the underbelly of the characters’ relationship, hang questions posed for the audience: What needs to be done to heal and not repeat the past? How do we, ourselves, forgive our villains? And can anyone sit idly by, knowing what we know now? Albert Einstein’s wisdom that “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look and do nothing.” rings loud and true. In the end, it is for us that Rhea Leman uses Goebbels to deliver a strong message in her play: “Silence needs an explanation.”
Directors Kirstin Franklin and Amber Robinson stage a wonderfully hard pill to swallow. Full of opposing forces, we pity the villains, get it straight from the cross dressers, and question what we know. And perhaps even look into some of what we didn’t know. Joseph and Magda Goebbels forced cyanide pills inside their six children’s mouths. Their oldest, 12-year-old Helga, struggled against receiving the capsule as per the bruises on her young face. Leni Riefenstahl lived to be 101 years old. Although never making another movie in her life, she spent time in Africa photographing the Nuba people, becoming the first foreigner to receive Sudanese citizenship. What her fellow Nazi friends might have thought of her new found passion for preservation of purity among people they would have undoubtedly sent to the gas chambers, we can only guess.
Akvavit Theatre is making a strong commitment to bringing serious heavyweight issues sewn riding onto their absurdist tail coats. And as their namesake liquor suggests, a “strong spirit” is indeed necessary to tackle such sensitive themes with compassion, humor and enthusiasm. Jobb godt utført!
As far as the rest of us, after the close calls in France with Marine le Pen, in Austria with Norbert Hofer and the impending German election in September of this year possibly giving way to another rise of Nationalism after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal stance on refugees, we should really pay attention to our own political climate. If the world doesn’t wake up to the fact that there is a Hitler on all our roofs, we are a hop, skip and jumping clown away from another massive modern civilized failure.