How could Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt have been so enthralled by Nazi henchman Martin Heidegger? It’s a question that has confounded dramatists for years, baffled playwright Kate Fodor when her play Hannah and Martin debuted in 2004, and is back to puzzle the audiences of Shattered Globe Theatre at Theatre Wit. A chamber play told half through willfully constructed memories, Louis Contey’s revival is a work of historical fiction that plainly lays out the conflicts of personalities and ethics involved and gratifies the audience by forcing its characters to acknowledge the magnitude of events that they were touched by and contributed to, but removed from. Interpreting the facts of the central question is left up to us.
The Ultimate Post-War Fremdschämen
Early in 1950, Hannah Arendt (Christina Gorman) used her public platform and influence to vouch for her former mentor, the disgraced ex-rector of the University of Feiburg, Martin Heidegger (Lawrence Grimm). He was also her lover, many decades ago. Although Heidegger publicly advocated for the Nazi regime early in its existence, he now portrays himself as one of its victims and cries that Hitler betrayed the revolution. Hannah claims that her initial denunciation of Martin was misinformed and based on uncharitable interpretations of ambiguities. She offers little in the way of explanation to her outraged student, Alice (Jazzma Pryor), but privately takes stock of what has been and will continue to be one of the longest and most influential relationships in her life.
Shattered Globe Theatre Constructs a Toxic Love Triangle
She first met Martin as an undergraduate, arriving to his office hours soaking wet and eager to please. Gorman portrays Hannah as sharply observant and willing to advocate for herself even at her most naïve, and as her confidence grows over the years, so does her hunger to comprehend greatness. Martin is a sleaze who paws at Hannah’s blouse on their second meeting, but his bullying of the dumber students and above-it-all attitude is part of what attracts her to him. Grimm plays Martin with a sense of playfulness that Hannah has difficulty tolerating from most other people, but they’re also both aware that this romance can’t last. Martin has a wife, Elfride (Cortney McKenna), who is not only his most important asset, but who wields influence over him Hannah soon realizes she will never match.
Until the second act, when reality intrudes for just a moment on fantasy, Hannah does not see the real Elfride. She imagines, alternately, a fussy and banal mother and schoolteacher, a terrifyingly competent Nazi fanatic, and a cunning but vacuous socialite who ensnares people like butterflies just for amusement. Actress Cortney McKenna is all these things, but each of them, Hannah is aware on some level, is something she made up to justify seeing herself as Martin’s savior and to scapegoat Elfride for his decisions. As for Martin, he’s a man who can declare that the Jewish question is just a wedge issue that distracts from the important work of teaching appreciation for Wagner and that the Nazi project would have been a good idea with a Fuhrer who wasn’t so working-class. Self-satisfied and imperious, he contrasts with Hannah’s other mentors, Karl Jaspers (Doug McDade) and his Jewish wife, Gertrud (Daria Harper). Sort of surrogate parents, they and her first husband, Gunther (Steve Peebles), are smart and warm, but have no grandeur about them. “You’re very neerrggh,” Hannah says, miming rays of light coming from her forehead, when explaining to Martin why she adores him so much.
Banish Heidegger and Banish all the World
A conceit of playwright Kate Fodor’s is to overlay Hannah’s return to Martin with the trial of Baldur von Shirach (Drew Schad), the leader of the Hitler Youth. Described by Hannah as a corrupter of the very culture he believed himself to be upholding, she can see clearly in him every flaw that led to the Holocaust. But to acknowledge the obvious parallel in Martin would be to implicate herself as his student. Suppose he were to prove utterly craven, a professional ethicist who failed every ethical test, and too defensive to repent? What would be left of the Western tradition that culminated in him, of love, of Hannah? In this set, designed by Nick Mozak to project Old World comfort and erudition, people enter like ghosts. Director Louis Contey presents the play as a puzzle whose pieces Hannah dreads to assemble fully, with Grimm’s raw and wretched performance as Heidegger right in the center. Fodor imagines a confrontation very different than what happened in real life, providing the audience with a kind of catharsis, but making Hannah’s decision even harder to grapple with. Historically, some information about Heidegger did not come out until after Arendt’s death, and some revealed moral corruption that went far beyond the people who were easy to despise. In her place, wanting to find a way to reconcile and make rebuilding easier and knowing what we do about the flaws in all our heroes, what would we do?
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Christina Gorman (Hannah Arendt), Lawrence Grimm (Martin Heidegger), Daria Harper (Gertrud Jaspers, Judge), Doug McDade (Karl Jaspers, Prosecutor), Cortney McKenna (Elfride Heidegger), Steve Peebles (Günther Stern, Radio Announcer), Jazzma Pryor (Alice, Seminar Student) and Drew Schad (Baldur von Schirach)
Kate Fodor (playwright), Louis Contey (director) Nick Mozak (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), Simean Carpenter (lighting design), Christopher Kriz (music and sound design), Jonathan Berg-Einhorn (props design), Lucille Schuh (production manager), Judy Anderson (executive production manager), Denise Savas (stage manager) and Ayanna Wimberly (assistant stage manager)
Thru Saturday, May 25, 2019
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 3 pm
No performance May 17, additional performance May 25 at 3:00 pm
1229 W. Belmont Ave
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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