Nazis, soft-boiled or scrambled

Uncle Adolf

By K. Kelman
Directed by Eddie Lew
Sage Theatre Co.
Raw Space
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Hitler is hiding out in South America. His repressed Jewish blood rebels against his Germanness and makes him a convert to Zionism - or maybe he's just a cracked old Jew having us on.

Uncle Adolf begins with suspense over whether a local Mother-and-sons spy team will take him back for trial, ignore him as a crackpot, or execute a Final Solution on the spot. Suspense withers as Hitler becomes aware of the Jewish mission and welcomes it as a way to get to Israel, be put on trial, and bring his new message to the world. Suspense is replaced by irony - good to have, but not the same thing.

The premise could make for an effective play, if it were executed in one act instead of two-or-so hours plus intermission. Kelman's idea rattled around on stage without an appropriate form to give it dramatic or theatrical substance. Finally, Hitler convinces everyone that he is indeed Hitler, but his keeper, Curt Hauptmann, puts a sleeping draught in everyone's tea. (All the suspense would, in real life, have been resolved by a phone call to Israel.)

Stuart Sherman as August Firestone appeared to be what he purported, a tired old Jew with a bee in his bonnet. His voice had an annoying squeak in the upper register that might have been bad vocal technique or might have been deliberate; at any rate, it went away as he "revealed" his identity, when his voice deepened and his manner became more animated. As for his makeup, the liverspots and red-rimmed eyes worked fine; the vertical lines were too much, and the clear-plastic mounting for the beard was visible from mid-house. His delivery, as Hitler, of a Zionist speech was on the money, although it would have been better without notes. (He gave a good impression of Hitler's gestures; but he lacked his smile. The man wasn't just a fire-eater; he had charisma, and the girls swooned.)

Daniel Haughey as Hauptmann gave a soft-boiled interpretation of a hard-boiled Nazi. (If he really was a Nazi....) Physically he was perfect, and he gave a finely nuanced performance; but his subtlety and gentleness suggested that he had been cast against type. An intriguing concept, but hard to support from the text. (After a while, contradictory dramatic assumptions lead to a dramatic hall of mirrors, and not of the kind carefully constructed by Pirandello or Pinter.)

Suzanne Levinson was that dramaturgical necessity, the ear-trumpet. Her main purpose was to feed Firestone's Hitlerian fantasy and to "meet cute" with one of the Jewish team. Her girlish naïveté covered up a dramatic void.

Carolyn Seiff as Clara Jansen, a Jewish agent, could have played Golda Meir. (She survived Auschwitz by her skills as a baker, which got her into Hitler/Firestone's presence - she made pastries like they had back home.) The scene between the two, when she showed him her number, was one of few that crackled with dramatic fire.

Rod Brogan and Whalen J. Laurence handled the thankless roles of her sons adequately, although Mr. Laurence tended to go hoarse.

Director Eddie Lew squandered the old man's entrance as Hitler. This could have been a Big Moment.

Louis Lopardi's lights left Hitler/Firestone in perpetual shadow while shining on the other actors' backs, legs - anywhere but their faces. Even in Hitler's big scene, the spotlight was aimed slightly to his right, so when he moved forward he went into shadow. Sound (also by Mr. Lopardi) was crude but sufficient, though sometimes drowned by the sound of fans - the theatre was oppressively hot, perhaps perfectly so for a play set in the Amazonian jungle.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 John Chatterton