When it came to the female intellect, philosopher Martin Heidegger's heart didn't only rule his head. It ate it. If he were still around, somebody like Madeleine Albright would probably ignite his soul the way Charlize Theron trips-um-something else in the rest of us. In his own day, he made do quite nicely with Johanna (Hannah) Arendt, his mistress and prize student at Germany's Marburg University. She cloaked her physical beauty under a heavy winter hat and coat as surely as she wore her smarts on both sleeves of her dowdy pea-green blazer. One look at those arms, and Germany's greatest 20th-century thinker melts into his own oatmeal.
Hannah & Martin, Laterthanever Productions' good current entry, doesn't hold out a lot of hope for these two, at least not on their first meeting in 1924. He was married, 35 and no stranger to infidelity; she was 18 and fresh out of her East Prussian hometown. He was a Nazi sympathizer and a devotée of the anti-Semitic composer Richard Wagner; she was Jewish and doggedly worked for Zionist causes before her 1933 detention in a German concentration camp (she escaped). Yet, incredibly, the pair would remain in touch until Arendt's death in 1975. Heidegger would pass six months later.
The script is laced with social philosophy and political theory, but playwright Kate Fodor skillfully tempers the heavy stuff with a lean and forceful conflict. By the beginning of the Nuremberg war crimes trials, Heidegger had been stripped of a senior university position and his teaching credentials-yet the star-struck Arendt, a doctor of political science who had moved to the U.S. and gained acclaim as a lecturer and New Yorker contributor, held some sway over the prospect of her former flame's reinstatement as an instructor. Would personal and romantic loyalties overcome political animosity, fueled by a cataclysm the likes of which the world has never seen?
I ain't tellin', 'sept to say that director Francine Chemnick helms it all with subtlety and grace. She never lets the story lapse into the soap opera it could easily become. The only melodrama correctly rests with Heidegger himself, cursed with the impatience of genius and probably a blood pressure to match. Stan Madruga takes on Heidegger's swagger and condescension as surely as Christina Barsi adopts Hannah's nothing-to-lose outspokenness (and to boot, she nicely underplays the younger Hannah's schoolgirl demeanor). The only major misstep involves the role of Karl Jaspers, under whom Arendt once studied at Heidelberg University. Portly Mark Petrich is properly cast to type, but he could be a good deal more avuncular in the interest of comic relief.
Anyway, take a look sometime at the drawings of the architectural style the Third Reich had hoped to model. Set designer David Weiner's stanchions and staircases reflect its aesthetic facelessness, and their subtle marbling evokes a touch of ancient Greece, whose governments Heidegger came to admire.
I've tried reading Heidegger's Being and Time to get a feel for the socialist philosophy around which his take on Nazism may have evolved. I might as well have been trying to fly a DC-8 through my bathroom window. This guy is 873 feet over my head, and he's really not a very good technician, which is what makes this play all the more plausible. It gives us some street-level material to work with, humanizing the great thinker amid his colossal ego, his consuming passion for Wagner and Hitler, his love for Hannah and his interpretation of social truth. It's an austere and lofty play, but that doesn't make it a bad one. Amid Laterthanever's treatments, it's actually quite the opposite.
This review is based on the performance of June 23. Hannah & Martin runs through July 2 at the Lyceum space, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown. $25. 619-544-1000.
Can't keep a good man down
CityBeat's scathing review of La Jolla Playhouse's Zhivago reportedly caused no mean hue and cry at the venue's administrative offices. And swell-headed as we are, we'd like to think our story weighed in the balance when artistic director Des McAnuff, who helmed the show, announced last week he'll not renew his Playhouse contract after it expires in April of next year.
We're full of applesauce. Fact is that McAnuff is one of the most deservedly sought-after directors in North America-as such, he says, his future endeavors will require his presence in New York and in Stratford, Ontario, where in 2008 he'll commence duties as an artistic director of that city's legendary Shakespeare festival. The two-time Tony Award winner and Illinois native has a signature entry on Broadway even now. Jersey Boys, the Four Seasons bioplay he directed here two years ago, just won four Tonys, including that for best musical.
McAnuff, 54, assumed the theater's artistic directorship twice (1983 and 2001) and has won very close to 720,000 awards during his tenures. He'll assume the new position of director emeritus after April-thus, the bridge isn't burned as much as severely singed. Either way, it amounts to McAnuff's absence and a major swipe at this area's cultural life.
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