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In Akvavit Theatre Company's Hitler On The Roof, playwright Rhea Leman has devised the perfect post-mortem punishment for the man behind the Nazi propaganda machine. It’s spring of 1945, Berlin, infamous Fuhrerbunker; the war is all but lost, Hitler had just committed suicide, Dr. Joseph Goebbels and his wife have followed his lead, first having poisoned their six children. Everybody’s dead. But, wait: Dr. Gobbels’ ghost (played by Amy Gorelow) is still hanging around refusing to cross onto the next world. Seventy-two years had passed, it’s now 2017, yet, Dr. Goebbels believes that the war is still going on and that he’s got some important work to do.


I’d like to note that Strawdog Theatre is a very intimate space with just two double rows of seats on each side of the stage. The stage itself is made to look like a bunker (set design by Chad Eric Bergman), empty food cans strewn around, Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” blasting in the background, and muffled old radio recordings of Hitler’s speeches occasionally chiming in (sound design by Nigel Harsch).


Ducking under the table each time a bomb goes off above the bunker, Dr. Goebbels keeps himself busy reciting Hitler’s and his own accomplishments and quotes, playing radio broadcasts to non-existent audiences, and boasting about his past, unable to let go and “move on”. Pacing around the bunker and reflecting on Germany’s past (“in 1931 Hitler turned dying country into a thriving country” and “created a new DNA, designed a new Germany”), he also analyzes propaganda’s manipulative power. As Minister of Propaganda and Peoples Enlightenment, Dr. Joseph Goebbels would know: he controlled arts, media, news and information in Germany from 1933 until his death in 1945.


Playwright Rhea Leman uses this original way to shine the light on the media and how it may be used as a tool to shape people’s perceptions and opinions, creating our reality. History is always there to remind us of our past and warn about the future. Born and raised in New York City, Rhea Leman moved to Denmark in 1981. She wrote Hitler On The Roof in 2011 in response to rise of Danish Nationalism. The original production of the play by the company Folketeatret toured Denmark for two years, winning the prestigious Reumert award for Best Leading Actress. Rhea Leman is the winner of multiple awards, including the Allen Prize award for “excellent dramatic writing”. Her writings focus on serious subjects which she presents in humorous ways, not unlike the current piece.


Mid-way through the play, Dr. Gobbels is joined in the bunker by the ghost of artist and filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl (Jay Torrence in drag), and the play picks up quite a bit. Together these two actors have such great chemistry on stage, and the gender role reversal of the two actors makes the premise of the play even more comical. Dressed like clowns, they dance (adorable!), flirt, and slap each other around (choreography by Susan Fay), all the while engaging in conversational battles to try and out-manipulate one another. But Leni Reifenstahl didn’t just drop in to chat; she’s there on a self-serving mission that, ultimately, doesn’t go as well as planned. Let’s just say the two “living dead” might just end up passing an eternity together, stuck in the bunker. Well done.


Hitler on the Roof is being performed at Strawdog Theatre (1802 W. Bernice Ave) through July 9th. For more information on this show or to purchase tickets, visit www.chicagonordic.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

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