Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Thoughtful Production of Hannah and Martin
Playwright Kate Fodor, who has been hailed as one of the great new voices in American Theatre, has taken advantage of recent historical research to examine the facts of the long, secret relationship between two towering figures of 20th century thought. Hannah was a Jewish political philosopher who, along with her husband Gunther Stern, published a dissertation on Jewish and Zionist politics at the rise of the Nazi power in Germany. She was arrested at the start of World War II by the Nazis and sent to a detention camp. She escaped to America and went on to have a successful career. Martin Heidegger was an Arian German philosopher who was recognized in the 20s as a great new voice when his work Being and Time was published. When Hitler rose to power, Heidegger became politically involved with the Nazis. Later, he was critical of their politics, then placed under Gestapo surveillance and fired from his senior position as Rector of Freiburg University. After the Allied victory, he was forbidden to teach because of his ambiguous attitudes toward Nazism.
Hannah and Martin is a two act drama that offers these two divergent philosophers on stage to debate their philosophies on the Nazi Party. The play tells of the secret romance between the two when Martin was Hannah's teacher before the war. The drama continues after the war with Hannah now part of the international intellectual community. She writes a letter asking for her former lover's reinstatement as a teacher.
Hannah and Martin is a razor-sharp play with pointed confrontations between Hannah and Martin in the second act when she visits the ex-lover in his home after the war. This war of words is beautifully accomplished by two outstanding actors, Stacy Ross and Robert Krakovski. The arguments bristle with subtle insights. The Nuremberg courtroom scenes which Hannah is covering in 1946 are realistic, thanks to the wonderful acting of Dan Hiatt as the prosecutor and Reese Madigan playing Von Schirach, the head of the Hitler Youth League.
Stacy Ross (popular Bay Area actress recently won her SFBATCC award for Major Barbara) gives a superb performances as Hannah. Her movements and voice are perfect in every detail, and her confrontations with Martin are exciting. Robert Krakovski (St. Louis actor) holds his own against Ms. Ross' great performance. He is very convincing as the aging Martin defends his principals on the fact that humanity has let him down and not the other way around. Reese Madigan's (New York actor Holiday, Illinois, Henry IV and Richard III) take on Gunther is very good and he also plays Von Schirach, the leader of the Hitler Youth in a brief role.
Dan Hiatt (Enchanted April, Noises Off, A Flea in Her Ear) gives an extraordinary performance as Karl Jasper, the elderly philosophical teacher who was not allowed in the university during the war because he had a Jewish wife. His slap in the face by the Nazi government shines through his performance. He also plays the American prosecutor well. Nancy Carlin (Cal Shake's Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and Importance of Being Earnest) is first rate in her dual roles of Elfride the Nazi loving wife of Martin and Gertrud the Jewish wife of Karl. Completing the cast is Lizzie Calogero (Lord of the Flies at Woman's Will) who plays the brief role of Hannah;s highly strung student, Alice. She is very good in the small role.
David Schweizer directs the production with a fast and smooth pace; there are no dull spots in the two hour, 20 minute production. Scenic designer Alexander V. Nichols gives the stage an industrial look with steel bridges, a glass cage for the defendant Von Schirach, and various props for the office and living room scenes.
Hannah and Martin plays at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose through May 29th. For tickets call 408-367-7255 online www.sjrep.com
Avner the Eccentric's Exception to Gravity comes to the San Rep on June 11 and runs through June 17th.